The Boulder City Council is preparing to adopt a local ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.
But city attorneys and police officers are under no delusion that the ban will be enforceable on any broad scale.
In fact, Boulder officials have been very open about the limits of the law.
City Attorney Tom Carr, who’s been responsible for drafting and redrafting the law in the council’s vision, said that the city is not going to go out looking for people who possess the items that Boulder is primed to ban.
That’s welcome news for the many gun owners who’ve already threatened not to comply with the ban.
“I can’t imagine a way to do proactive enforcement,” Carr said. “Obviously, there’s no circumstance where we go door-to-door and ask people if they’ve violated the law. So, I think it would mostly be responsive.”
Greg Testa, Boulder’s police chief, declined through a spokeswoman to be interviewed for this story.
But his comments to the council earlier this month revealed that he’s not expecting his department to be especially active in its enforcement of the ban, should the council follow through on its stated attempt to adopt it.
“My officers could only take action if they came in lawful contact with someone who was in (illegal) possession or if they observed a weapon” subject to Boulder’s likely ban, Testa said on May 1.
So, what does that mean, in practice?
Assuming the latest draft of the ordinance is advanced on Tuesday, those in possession of what the city defines as “assault weapons” will have until the end of the year to get them grandfathered via a certificate from the police department. Bump stocks and magazines above 10-round capacity would have to be trashed, sold or otherwise removed from the city within 30 days of the law’s adoption.
Carr’s fully expecting a significant amount of non-compliance.
“This is a very divisive issue where people have very strong feelings,” he said. “The folks who oppose these kinds of bans … some of them suggest they’re not going to cooperate. I can’t predict what people are going to do, but I respect the feelings.”
Given that city officials won’t be going “door-to-door,” and that cops won’t seek out — much less, be able to secure — warrants to search private properties to find illegal, non-grandfathered assault weapons, even in cases when they may know they’re being harbored, it seems a safe bet that few, if any, people would be charged in violation of the proposed ban.
Testa himself has suggested that the department would approach violators from an initial standpoint of “education,” as opposed to enforcement.
Also, since breaking this proposed law would just be a misdemeanor, chances are that if cops are contacting someone in violation, that violator may have bigger problems than the misdemeanor.
Citing an extreme example of that, Carr said, “If someone shoots someone with an assault weapon, obviously they’re going to be charged with homicide and not the city ordinance.”
At no point during the council’s deliberations on the ordinance have any of the nine members suggested that Boulder might easily be able to execute a full wipe of the items the city may soon ban. Consistently, supporters of the proposal have suggested that it’s a worthwhile endeavor if it makes purchasing a dangerous weapon a bit harder for someone intent on doing harm.
Others on the council, including Mary Young, have argued the ban is more symbolic than useful.
Young did not return a request for comment on Friday, but Carr said he rejected her previous comment.
“I think there are teeth to it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s symbolic if it saves a life. And it’s designed to try to save a life.”
Rachel Friend — a Boulder resident, attorney and former head of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — said she also feels the law could have a real impact.
Among the reasons she offered to support that idea was the potential for Boulder to influence others.
“I think this sends a message to the students leading the way,” she said, referencing young leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., “that we are with them and we are doing everything in our power to help them.
“The Boulder City Council is really limited in how much they can fine and they can’t sentence you to … but I think they’re doing everything they can and they’re setting an example to other cities and hopefully other states to follow.”
Others aren’t so hopeful.
John Ramey is a Boulderite who, via Councilwoman Mirabai Nagle, pushed a last-minute alternative proposal to the council’s law. Nagle presented his concept, which stripped away the “ban” aspect of the draft and offered a new approach based largely on promoting the certification of more safe and educated gun owners in Boulder.
The council was mostly unreceptive to the idea, which barely saw daylight during the May 1 deliberation, and will almost certainly not be revisited when the council takes up the issue again on Tuesday.
Said Ramey, in an email about the likely effect of the proposed law, “By definition, effective governing must be practical and enforceable. When something isn’t enforceable, like the war on drugs, that’s a huge sign that the underlying legal model doesn’t match the actual problems and realities.
“At best, ineffective laws just displace or morph the problem. Mass shootings declined after Australia’s weapons ban, but gun-related crimes doubled in just five years. In countries like the UK and China, they now deal with daily fear of acid, knife, and vehicle attacks.”
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