Mass Shooting in Colorado Results in New Calls for Gun Reform

Ruri Duffy, Contributing Writer

Three months into 2021 were enough to bring yet another reminder of the severe threat that gun violence is to the United States. On March 31st at 2:30 PM, a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado faced the devastating loss of ten lives after an active shooter opened fire in the building. The shooting came less than a week after an act of terror in Atlanta that targeted Asian Americans rocked the country, and it was the 7th shooting in seven days. 

As news spread to major media outlets on the night of the shooting, officials in Colorado were reluctant to disclose information on the suspect, number of deaths, or possible motives. It wasn’t until more than six hours after the incident that information was released regarding the death of a Boulder policeman and the status of the suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa. Eventually, Alissa was taken into custody, and is set to face trial. His first court appearance occurred only a few days after the shooting, where he underwent the early stages of a mental health review. 

The investigation brought to light past behavioral patterns of Alissa from friends and family, who described him as “paranoid” and “antisocial,” as well as bringing up previous suspicions of mental illness and instability. Due to these developments, while prosecutors originally charged him with 10 counts of murder, the defense argued that no action could be taken before the mental illness review took place, leaving the traumatized city and nation waiting for closure.

Shootings reached a peak in 2020 with 19,000 deaths

 On the heels of yet another cataclysmic shooting, the Biden administration made its first strides in gun reform. As shootings continued to rise over the last few years they reached a peak in 2020 with 19,000 deaths; the highest number of shootings and firearm related casualties in 20 years. Then-president Donald Trump’s stance on gun reform was often deemed inconsistent, with comments ranging from declarations for more background checks to suggestions to arm classrooms and teachers. Only a few months into his presidency, Biden has taken steps in the opposite direction through direct executive orders—a frequently used tool in his early days in office. While historically federal influence in gun control has been limited, Biden made his opinions on the matter clear in a recent announcement, calling gun violence in the US “an epidemic” and “an international embarrassment.” Much of the gun laws that exist today rely on state level legislation, leading to immensely varying degrees of rigidity across borders. Among Biden’s orders are plans to limit the ability to use “ghost guns,” or self-assembled guns, which enable the avoidance of background checks, as well as the use of accessories like “pistol braces” that allow ease and accuracy with bigger weapons. 

The Colorado shooting in particular has raised some questions specifically regarding the ease of accessing, purchasing, and using dangerous firearms in the US, many of which concerned the gun used. The firearm used was a Ruger AR-556 Pistol, a gun that has been at the forefront of many gun reform campaigns in the past. The AR-15 rifle has become infamous due to previous mass shootings, and has some striking similarities to the pistol used by Alissa including how it operates, the ammunition it uses, and its appearance. Aside from the pistol’s slightly smaller, more easily concealed and maneuverable body, the only real difference between the two guns is their classification. The restrictions and regulations for rifles are extensive compared to those for pistols, requiring more thorough background exams, and additional fees, taxes and waiting periods for acquiring the weapon itself. The classification of the equally as dangerous and eerily similar AR-556 allowed the shooter to purchase the gun just six days before the incident in Boulder.  

This specific comparison is a manifestation of one of the most controversial issues regarding gun ownership and reform in the United States—the possible loopholes are too plentiful and too substantial for an issue as lethal as firearm regulations. Some argue that one of the biggest defenses for gun regulations is simply a loophole that has been around long enough to legitimize itself: the Second Amendment. President Biden himself addressed this in his remarks on Thursday during his address regarding gun violence prevention. He argued that “from the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own. From the very beginning that the Second Amendment existed, certain people weren’t allowed to have weapons.” 

While Biden’s new plan aims to close some of these loopholes, specifically with his order involving “ghost guns,” the public knows from experience that it won’t be that simple to find effective reform. Even Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has acknowledged the possible lack of follow through from direct orders, saying, “While the president’s executive actions are critical, they are not a substitute for meaningful legislation to address the gun violence epidemic.”

Whether or not these orders are just another call into the void of partisan legislative change won’t be clear for a while longer, as they have yet to go through the waiting bureaucratic obstacle course. Unfortunately, this leaves the countless communities impacted by gun violence to watch as legislation continues to be treated as political ammunition rather than a pressing humanitarian threat. As the fight for reform continues, it seems that the shooting in Boulder simply resurfaced preexisting questions, with no answers in sight.