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he Boulder City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to advance a ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines in the city.
In recent weeks, the terms and scope of the council’s proposed ban have been hotly debated, including at a multi-hour public hearing before the council April 5, during a street protest on Broadway and through hundreds of emails to the council from citizens.
What the council voted for on Tuesday is not final. In order to be adopted as law, it will need to be voted on again at a third reading that will likely take place in the next few weeks.
It will become effective as soon as it’s adopted. At that point, according to rules the council has agreed on, citizens who own bump stocks will have to get rid of them within 30 days of adoption. They’d have to get rid of magazines with the capacity to hold 10 or more rounds by Dec. 31.
After lengthy deliberation, the council landed on a law that is in some ways stricter than what City Attorney Tom Carr originally drafted, with many fewer exemptions than might have been included.
Assault-style weapons, under a specific and technical definition Carr has written, could not be sold or possessed under this law.
Once the law is formally passed — and assuming the language within it doesn’t change by the third reading — there will be exemptions only for police, federal officers and military personnel.
Though there was some debate on this matter, a majority of the council seemed to believe that the spirit of the law should be to rid Boulder of AR-15-style weapons, and that broad exemptions — for concealed carry permit holders, for example — could undermine that aim.
“I think, by and large, we’re focused on a type of weapon to keep it out of civilian society,” Mayor Suzanne Jones said. “Seems to me if you’re in the military or you need (an assault weapon) for your duties, that makes sense. I’m not sure, if you don’t need it for your duties, why you should have it.”
The council talked at great length about whether gun owners who acquired their assault weapons prior to the new law’s effective date should be required to register those weapons with the city’s police department.
There is great concern among some about the prospect of gun owners having to be listed on any city registry. Many have already threatened to protest the law, including the registration aspect of it.
“I will not comply,” read signs waved by some in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting.
After much conversation, the council seemed to agree to a paper registration system gun owners would have to get certificates for their weapons from the Boulder Police Department and keep their assault weapons and certificates together at all times.
Police would keep no formal record through registry, however.
Owners who purchased their weapons prior to this law’s effective date would have until Dec. 31 to claim their certificates.
That approach to registration won out only after Councilwoman Mirabai Nagle argued against all registration-by-name.
She won ground there when the council agreed to a paper registration system. She was strongly concerned about the susceptibility to hacking of a potential digital registry.
Prior to the meeting, Nagle offered an alternative proposal that scrapped the concept of a ban and replaced it with age limits and various other requirements.
She did not win support for that, but even once it was apparent that her alternative wasn’t going to gain majority support, she lobbied for an ordinance that reflected more of the wishes of gun owners she’s spoken to. Registration, she said, was at the top of their lists of concerns.
“If this is the opposition side’s No. 1, big, huge thing, I think this would be a good step to get it towards the middle,” said Nagle, arguing for the exclusion of names on any potential registry.
Prior to digging in to the fine details of the ordinance, the council had some extended debate over whether the pursuit was actually a meaningful one.
“One of the things I’ve been concerned about with this proposed ordinance is that it creates an illusion of safety, a false sense of security,” Councilwoman Mary Young said. “I hope that if this ordinance passes, that people are aware that this is not going to be the be all to end all. It is, and will be, mostly a symbolic gesture.
“That has been my concern. I would really like to see us do something that would actually not just address the assault weapons but also address other kinds of gun violence — the kinds of gun violence that students in Chicago have been asking us to address since before the Parkland (Fla.) kids were even born.”
Nagle added, “I want a very safe community,” but said she felt the ordinance that came before the council on Tuesday was “divisive” and not reflective of compromise between different sides of the issue of gun control.
Those sides have shown out in force consistently, since the council embarked on this policy push in the wake of the shooting in Parkland.
Councilwoman Jill Adler Grano, who originally introduced the ordinance to the rest of the council, countered Nagle’s comment.
“Compromise in itself is not a virtue,” she said.
Others argued against Young’s suggestion that the measure is mostly “symbolic.”
Said the mayor: “Just because we can’t solve an entire problem doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to progress.”
“We can’t be certain that it’s purely symbolic here,” said Councilman Sam Weaver, arguing that the potential of the ordinance to delay access to deadly weapons could, in fact, prove to be meaningful in preventing future harm.
Council members expect the city will be sued once they pass this law.
Carr has said he believes that Boulder, as a home-rule city equal to the state on matters of local concern, has good standing.
There is also some precedent in Colorado for such legislation, as there are existing bans in Denver and Vail.
Still, Carr said, a suit could be coming.
“This entire ordinance has some level of risk to it,” he said.