Tearful tributes to victims lost in Boulder shooting heard at Colorado Capitol

Bill that would require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms gets House hearing

Rep. Edie Hooton of Boulder is comforted by colleagues as she talks on the floor of the Colorado House on March 23, 2021, about the mass shooting in Boulder the previous day. (screenshot from The Colorado Channel)

The day after a gunman opened fire at a Boulder grocery store, killing 10 people including one police officer, state lawmakers spent their morning at the Capitol honoring those lost and calling for action.

“By all accounts, Officer Eric Talley and all of our first responders were heroic yesterday,” state Rep. Judy Amabile, a Democrat who represents the House district where the shooting occurred, tweeted Tuesday. “This community is grateful. We’re also indebted to the King Soopers employees who worked through the pandemic, only to have this happen. It’s beyond heartbreaking.”

Talley had been with the Boulder Police Department since 2010. He was the first to arrive at the scene and was fatally shot, Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said Monday.

During announcements on the House and Senate floors Tuesday, lawmakers shared their condolences for those lost. Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat, told colleagues that her uncle, “Mitch,” served with Eric Talley in the Boulder Police Department.

Esgar said she reached out last night to ask her aunt if “Uncle Mitch” was OK. He was not hurt in the shooting, Esgar said, but Esgar’s aunt told her: “He’s heartbroken, because he’s on his way to Officer Talley’s house to stand by with his wife and his seven kids. He’ll be there all night.”

Esgar said her uncle later relayed to her that Talley was “genuine, honest and always concerned.” He loved to play games, and during dinner breaks he would often teach other officers new ones, Esgar said.

“He was such a tender soul,” Esgar said, repeating her uncle’s words.

“Yesterday my beloved Boulder was traumatized in a way that, this has never occurred in our community,” Rep. Edie Hooton, a Democrat from Boulder, said through tears. “We are a peaceful community, outside of shenanigans from (University of Colorado Boulder) students sometimes … and King Soopers is where those students shop.”

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat, represents the Boulder Senate district where the King Soopers is located. On the Senate floor, he recalled the Boulder Daily Camera’s 2013 story of Talley and his colleagues rescuing a family of ducks from a drainage ditch.

Steve Fenberg
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, continues in his role as Senate majority leader for 2021. (Courtesy of Steve Fenberg)

“We need to be leaders, and we need to have conversations about what we can do to keep people safe,” Fenberg said, adding that he looked forward to having a “mature and reasoned discussion” about gun policy.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Douglas County, called the shooting suspect a “monster.”

“I suppose we as a society are craving, anxious to know what the motive was: Why?” Holbert said. “It’s in our nature: Who, what, where, when, why, how? I don’t want to know his name, and the why doesn’t matter. It was wrong. It was terror brought upon all of us.”

Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, said the incident reinforced for her that proposals to defund the police were not a good idea.

“The police are there to provide the resources and the protection and the safety that we need,” Fields said. “And I was proud to see them show up in Boulder with the appropriate equipment that they need to respond to an active shooting with the force that they needed.”

Lost or stolen firearms bill set for hearing Tuesday

In a Tuesday statement, Boulder state senators noted that 100 people are killed every day in the U.S. by gun violence and called congressional response “painfully inadequate.”

“We need fundamental change, or we’ll be back here again and again, in never-ending cycles of unnecessary loss and pain,” the senators wrote. “Our hearts are sickeningly heavy for the families of the victims, and while we send them all our love and support, we also call on our national leaders to do more than sympathize, we need them to act. In the meantime, Colorado will continue to lead by example — passing meaningful gun safety legislation in the hopes that no family has to face this ever again.”

The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to hear testimony on several bills, including one that would require people to report lost or stolen firearms, or else face a civil infraction or misdemeanor charge.

Senate Bill 21-78, sponsored in the House by Democratic state Reps. Tom Sullivan of Centennial and Leslie Herod of Denver, was already set for a hearing March 23 before the shooting occurred. It passed the Senate — where Democratic Sens. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Boulder County and Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge are sponsors — on March 10, by a party-line vote of 20-15.

Sullivan’s son, Alex, was killed along with 11 others in the 2012 mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater.

“My family and I know all too well what the victims and their families are experiencing and feeling today and all the days to come,” Sullivan tweeted March 23. “Some families mourn their loved ones, while other families are traumatized by what their loved ones experienced first-hand.”

During SB-78’s Senate hearing, only four people testified against it, compared with a dozen or so witnesses in favor of the bill’s requirements for reporting lost or stolen firearms. But in an interview before the bill’s House hearing, Sullivan said he’d heard more people were signed up to testify in opposition Tuesday.

“I don’t know if that has something to do with what happened yesterday — if they feel as though this is an attack on their Second Amendment rights of some kind, whereas this bill has nothing to do with that,” he said. “This is an awareness bill … 60% of Coloradans already report lost or stolen firearms, but the simple majority isn’t effective enough. We need 65, we need 75% of people to do it.”

Sullivan noted that it’s unclear whether the Boulder shooting was committed with a lost or stolen firearm.

Senate Republicans opposed SB-78 due to what they said was a lack of evidence that reporting requirements would reduce gun violence, and because of the criminal penalties for gun owners who violated it.

“The idea that by being a victim you could also become a criminal is quite fascinating,” Sen. Bob Gardner, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said in a March 4 statement about the bill. “Reporting a firearm as stolen won’t save a life — but failing to do so may make a criminal out of everyday Coloradans if this bill becomes law.”

Other gun proposals include safe storage, waiting periods

Colorado Democrats’ other major gun policy initiative this year is House Bill 21-1106, which passed the House March 9 on a 40-25 vote after debate that stretched for 10 hours the previous day. Sponsored by Reps. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge and Kyle Mullica of Northglenn, the bill would require people to lock up their guns when not using them.

HB-1106’s Senate sponsors are Sens. Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village and Chris Hansen of Denver, both Democrats. It will get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a yet-to-be-determined date.

Sullivan said he also plans to introduce a bill that would mandate waiting periods between purchasing a gun and picking it up from the store. He’s been working with advocates on the initiative since an 18-year-old Florida woman, who was reportedly fascinated with the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, traveled to Colorado and purchased a gun in April 2019, prompting school district closures.

The woman died by suicide at a national recreation area outside Denver.

“If we had had a waiting period at that point of three to five days, her parents maybe could have found out,” Sullivan said. “We could have saved that young woman’s life if someone else was aware of where she was and what she was up to at that time.”

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