The state of Colorado made history last year when it became the first state in the country to repeal its decades-old firearms preemption statute. The move freed up cities and counties to pass gun legislation as they see fit, provided the laws were not more permissive than those passed at the state level.
The move was touted by Governor Jared Polis (D.), who signed the bill last June, as a victory for “local control” over the issue. But new details have come to light as municipalities have begun to take advantage of the wide latitude granted to them on guns without a preemption statute. They suggest a regional, rather than local, gun-control push is taking place behind the scenes.
The city of Boulder got the ball rolling in February of this year when it advanced a plan to pass a sweeping set of gun restrictions that go far beyond state firearm regulations. The proposals include:
- reinstatement of the city’s assault weapons ban, with an added prohibition on “trigger activators.”
- reinstatement of the city’s ban on magazines that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition.
- a complete ban on open carry and licensed concealed carry in “sensitive areas.”
- a mandatory 10-day waiting period for gun sales.
- a ban on unserialized firearms.
- a mandate that all licensed gun and ammunition dealers post a sign on the premises stating, “WARNING: Access to a firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of suicide, death during domestic violence disputes, and the unintentional death of children, household members or others.”
The proposals drew headlines for their scope and stringency, but not necessarily for their source. The deeply progressive Colorado city was largely expected to be the primary jurisdiction to push local gun control following the repeal of state preemption, considering its political demographics and its recent history with preemption battles.
But since the ordinances were first announced, the city council in Boulder has yet to advance them in formal legislative proceedings. According to the Boulder Beat, the city has been waiting to formally introduce the proposals in order to coordinate with neighboring cities Superior, Lafayette, and unincorporated Boulder County to pass the same legislation.
Further reporting uncovered that the effort extends beyond the boundaries of Boulder County.
Complete Colorado uncovered emails between councilmembers from multiple city councils, gun-control groups inclusing Everytown For Gun Safety and Colorado Ceasefire, and local activists receiving coaching on how to testify in support of proposed ordinances at city council meetings. A draft booklet of model ordinances coauthored by Giffords and Everytown was also circulated. So was the outline of a press release spearheaded by Boulder city councilmembers announcing a joint, multi-city effort to pass new gun control this summer.
The uncovered emails, as well as the publicly announced gun-control proposals of multiple municipalities, appear to confirm the worst fears of opponents of preemption repeals.
If successful, the campaign would shift the status quo in Colorado from one with uniform state laws governing firearms to one in which regional blocs of some of the most populated areas have uniformly restrictive policies toward gun ownership and gun carry.
The campaign could also serve as a useful blueprint for gun-control activists in other states. Partial and outright preemption repeal bills have been introduced in multiple states recently, and legal challenges to preemption statutes have been occurring for years. It’s entirely possible at least some of those efforts will succeed in the near future, particularly in blue states with preemption laws still on the books such as Washington and Oregon.
If that happens, activists nationwide may very well have a new strategy to maximize the reach of local gun restrictions that can’t pass muster at the state level.
Disclosure: Complete Colorado is an online news and commentary website published by the Independence Institute, a state think tank where the author works as an energy policy analyst. However, Independence Institute had no role in the creation of this piece.