Local, state and federal lawmakers consider gun safety policies in wake of Parkland shooting

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It’s been more than two weeks since a gunman took the lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And, as in times following previous mass shootings, gun safety advocates are calling for stricter laws as legislators around the country debate the limits of the Second Amendment. But something feels different this time, says Colorado Sen. Michael Merrifield (D-El Paso).

“It feels like people are more, and finally, fed up. And the fact that young people this time are coming forward and really demanding action is different from the past times,” he says.

Merrifield currently has a bill calling for a ban on multi-use trigger activators (bump stocks), like the device used to maximize casualties in the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, where 58 people were killed. The bill — which is widely expected to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate — was recently postponed by several weeks. Despite the setback, Merrifield is “cautiously hopeful” the bill will pass this session.

While Colorado Democrats don’t have any other proposed measures on the books restricting gun owners, they have made yet another concerted effort to stonewall any attempts by state Republicans to loosen gun laws.

For the past five years or so, Colorado legislators have introduced a number of bills to expand gun rights, attempting to roll back measures put in place after the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, where 12 people died. And each year, these bills have failed to pass, with 2018 proving no different. As gun safety advocates rallied outside the capital and filled the gallery at the state house, three different Republican House bills died in a committee meeting after hours of debate last week.

A proposed bill that would have allowed concealed weapons at schools drew the most attention. It was proposed (again) by Rep. Patrick Neville, a Republican from Castle Rock and a survivor of the 1999 Columbine shooting.

“I am tired of just talking about solutions, my bill would have done something to actually protect kids and deter future violence,” Neville said in a statement. “Proposals to stop gun violence must be realistic to be effective, and it’s so disappointing to watch Democrats bow to their special interest groups and defeat viable options to help protect society.”

In the Senate, a bill that would allow the concealed carry of handguns without a permit, subject to current laws prohibiting concealed carry on school grounds, is still under consideration although a similar measure failed to pass last year.

Gun safety advocates are also pushing for a statewide assault weapons ban, similar to what’s in place in seven other states and the District of Columbia. Others argue for a “red flag law,” essentially a gun restraining order whereby law enforcement can temporarily confiscate guns from people a judge deems dangerous, usually after someone reports them. Six states have some version of the law, with Rhode Island’s governor signing a red-flag executive order on Monday, Feb. 26, the first state to do so since the Parkland shooting. The NRA opposes such measures, saying they don’t allow for “proper due process.”

A similar law is “quietly being considered” in the halls of the U.S. Congress, according to Politico, as pressure grows on federal lawmakers to pass some sort of gun safety legislation. Other ideas being considered at the federal level include incentives for local and state governments to report criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, strengthening and/or expanding the national background check system altogether and raising the purchase age for AR-15s (the weapon used in Parkland) from 18 to 21.

The last one is unlikely to pass as it’s facing strong opposition from the NRA, which opposes any federal legislation banning assault weapons or bump stocks. While Democrats and Republicans alike have said they want to prevent another shooting like Parkland, it remains to be seen if they can put aside their differences to pass any legislation.

As federal and state lawmakers are tied up in partisan politics, local jurisdictions are stepping forward with their own policies on firearms.

Denver has had an assault weapon ban in place for decades but recently amended it to be even stricter when it comes to bump stocks. And last week, City Council member Jill Adler Grano proposed instituting a similar ban in Boulder.

“When the federal government or the states aren’t doing the right thing, I think it’s up to the cities to do it and to make a stand,” Grano says. “While it doesn’t move the needle significantly just in Boulder, if other cities across the nation took note and did the same thing, it certainly would.”

City Attorney Tom Carr, other council members and stakeholders are currently preparing for a special public meeting in April. Comments will be allowed so the meeting is expected to last several hours.

“I’m confident that we’ll do something,” Grano says. “I just don’t know the details of it quite yet. I have things I’d like to see, but again, it will be up to the majority [of Council] and a lot of that will be influenced by the community.”

There’s no question the public has once more become engaged with the gun issue following the Parkland tragedy.  The question is, will anything change this time? At least one politician seems to think so.

“It just feels a little different this time,” says Merrifield. Time will tell.