Colorado GOP lawmakers seek repeal of magazine ban despite New Year’s Eve mass shooting

Shooter who killed deputy owned 100-round magazine

Colorado GOP lawmakers seek repeal of magazine ban despite New Year’s Eve mass shooting

Republican advocates of the right to bear arms with high-capacity magazines aim to legalize them again despite Colorado’s latest mass shooting.

On New Year’s Eve, Matthew Riehl ambushed Douglas County sheriff’s deputies, killing Zackari Parrish, a father of two, and wounding six other people before he was shot and killed.

It was the second time in five years that Colorado has been traumatized by a lone madman wielding a military-style rifle and other guns. 

James Holmes took a heavier toll in 2012. He killed 12 people and wounded 58 others at an Aurora theater as moviegoers desperately tried to hide or flee.

Both men owned gun magazines capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition. Colorado lawmakers banned such magazines after the Aurora shooting, but Riehl bought his in Wyoming legally along with a cache of other weapons from a gun store in Laramie.

He fired a barrage of bullets from his apartment bedroom when deputies arrived to talk to him at dawn. The sheriff’s office identified four guns used in the shooting and said that more than 100 rounds were fired, but it would not specify whether or how many rounds came from the high-capacity magazine. A spokesman for the department said the number of rounds fired from each gun is still under investigation. 

On Wednesday, the opening day of the 2018 legislative session, Republican Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Republican Reps. Lori Saine and Stephen Humphrey, both of Weld County, introduced bills that would overturn the ban. (Democratic leadership in the House immediately sent the bill to a kill committee.) Saine made headlines late last year after she was arrested at Denver International Airport for bringing a loaded gun through security. Prosecutors declined to file charges.  

State Sen. Tim Neville, a conservative Republican allied with the hard-line Rocky Mountain Gun Owners group, told The Colorado Independent that if Riehl did use a high-capacity magazine, his ambush demonstrated the uselessness of Colorado’s ban.

“Criminals will do what criminals will do,” he said.

Besides, he added, “no gun guy is going to use a 100-round magazine. They jam.”

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, who represents the district where Parrish was killed, previously sponsored legislation to overturn Colorado’s ban, which limits new gun magazines to 15 rounds. Holbert said he would vote to do so again.

“Punishing law-abiding citizens is not the solution,” he said.

Holbert added, however, that the shooting may have demonstrated flaws in a background check system that is supposed to identify mentally ill purchasers. “That’s something I’d like to understand better,” he said.

The Denver Post has reported that numerous warning signs preceded Riehl’s ambush, including an involuntary stay at a veterans’ hospital in Wyoming, recent threats to police and a failure to take medicine for a bipolar disorder.

Gun control advocates say those signs points to the need for legislation that would give family members a tool to temporarily disarm a loved one in crisis. That tool, an extreme risk protection order, would allow a civil court judge to order a respondent deemed dangerous to surrender his guns for up to one year.

Eileen McCarron, president of the gun control group Colorado CeaseFire, said the Douglas County situation was “screaming out” for crisis intervention.

“It’s awful that family members can’t deal with it when they know somebody is going dangerously off the rails,” she said.

Yet she is pessimistic about the prospects of change, especially during an election year when Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate. She summed up her expectations of legislative responsiveness in a word: “Nothing.”

She is not giving up, however. She found two senators interested in sponsoring a Colorado extreme risk protection order and hopes Democratic leaders will support them. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” she said Wednesday. One of the senators is Aurora’s Rhonda Fields, whose son was gunned down with his fiancée before he could testify in a murder trial.

Ever since the Aurora shooting, Colorado legislators have waged yearly gun battles that typically end in standoffs. Senate Republicans vote to overturn the 15-round limit on gun magazines, only to see their bills die in the House. Gun control measures that make it through a Democratic-controlled House die in the Senate.

This year is shaping up as more of the same. Republicans expect House Democrats to kill efforts to broaden gun rights and contend that a restraining order law would violate constitutional rights to own guns and be protected against unreasonable seizures. Democrats are wary of offending gun owners in an election year that looks troublesome for Republicans nationwide.

In an office bedecked with plaques for championing conservative causes, Sen. Neville said he would worry about any proposal to allow gun seizures prior to a criminal act.

“You have a problem. You have an issue. You get a warrant,” he said.

The Aurora and Douglas County shootings bore some remarkable similarities. Both killers legally bought civilian versions of military rifles along with 100-round ammunition magazines. Both sprayed their victims with unrelenting gunfire. Both showed ample warning signs of impending psychological breakdowns. Yet neither was deemed to be mentally ill before the shootings and both still had access to their weapons at a time of acute psychological crisis.

Democrats responded forcefully to the movie theater massacre, pushing through laws in 2013 that banned new high-capacity magazines and required background checks on all gun sales.

An alliance of gun owners and Republicans rebelled, swiftly and successfully.

Senate President John Morse, a Democrat, was ousted in an expensive recall election. Sen. Angela Giron, a Pueblo Democrat who voted for the new laws, also was recalled. A third Democratic senator, Evie Hudak, stepped down to avoid a recall fight, enabling a Democrat to replace her.

Morse, who was narrowly defeated, blames Democrats in Colorado and nationally for their timidity during and after the recall elections.

“Democrats are afraid of their own shadows,” he said. “To this day, Democrats don’t talk much about guns, even though thousands of people die needlessly each year, including a deputy in Douglas County. This is the Aurora shooting again, but without the same number of casualties. And the casualties were in blue.”

Former House speaker Andrew Romanoff, now president of Mental Health Colorado, sees an opportunity to reduce gun deaths by enforcing existing laws that promise mentally ill Coloradans will not have to endure sometimes months-long waits for treatment. Many substance abusers are not getting help. Mental health professionals are paid less than those treating physical ailments. And the state Division of Insurance hasn’t penalized insurance companies that provide a smaller reimbursement for mental health treatment, Romanoff said. Those factors limit opportunities for intervention, leaving open the possibility that future shooters like Matthew Riehl or James Holmes will strike again.

Said Romanoff: “Those laws are almost entirely useless unless you enforce them.”

The Colorado Independent’s John Herrick contributed to this story.

Photo by Vlad Butsky via Flickr: Creative Commons. 

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About the Author

David Olinger


  1. Will Morrison on said:

    Nice how ALL the facebook comments here are clearly from NRA stooges. To the guy from OK who refuses to come here without his freaking gun, please stay home. We don’t want you OR your gun here.

    This whole insistence on “I MUST have my gun with me at all minutes of my life” is nothing but paranoia on display. What are you people DOING to other people that everyone wants to kill you? I’ve lived here since 1962 and have NEVER felt the need to arm myself, been threatened by anyone where I wanted one, and I STILL don’t feel like every day when I leave the house I’m in mortal danger just for being outside. And yet I’M supposed to be the fearful coward in this society? That seems a little backwards to me. If you’re not out creating animosity and enemies, then chances are really good you won’t ever be in a situation where you need to “defend” yourself. That’s not cowardly talk, it’s reality.

    The NRA is terrified, every article on guns anywhere on the net is IMMEDIATELY overrun with “gun owners” all screaming about their rights being taken away. Lots of threats towards those on the left, who they ASSUME are unarmed, and will be an easy target for them once they start shooting people. They are going to be VERY surprised. More’s the pity.

    People trying to blame someone’s religion for violence are idiots trying to smear the discussion with bigotry. They NEVER seem to want to acknowledge that in this country, it’s the Christian radicals that are the biggest problem. OK city was NOT pulled off by a Muslim, folks. The numerous racial incidents we have every day in this country are NOT caused by Muslims. They are, in fact, the victims FAR more often than not. Look to your OWN side before you go blaming someone else for THEIR religion. It’s NOT the religion that kills, it’s the damned weapons. Your “argument” is nothing but bigotry.

    Fact is, the VAST majority of weapons in this country are NOT needed, and WILL do far more damage than they will prevent. Stats prove it, you can argue it all you want, but they stats PROVE that you’re far more likely to use that gun against yourself or a family member than a robber. Scream at me all you want, but that’s REALITY. I don’t make this stuff, up, I just notice it and remember, rather than ignore it because I don’t like it.

    People in this country prove every day that the average adult is not mature enough to handle the level of responsibility of possessing a gun. So many of us aren’t capable of dealing with driving to work without wanting to kill someone, we’ve all seen what happens when that impulse is overrun with emotion. And so into that situation, the republicans want to put even MORE firepower into the mix, to make things even LESS stable and livable than they are now. Why does anyone NEED a magazine with 100 shots? Why do you need 15? Truth is, you DON’T. If you’re THAT bad a shot that you have to have 100 shots to hit something, God help anyone NEAR you.

    This isn’t needed. We see that it’s NOT needed every day in this country. There is already too much easy death going on here, why do we HAVE to make it THAT much easier? This is just foolishness paid for by the NRA. Don’t let them get away with it.

  2. Jack Burton on said:

    And ~this~ is the best that Morrison can do, eh?

    No logic… no rational thought… no reason. Just pure emotional screed and what makes him ffffffeeeeelllll gggggooooodddd.

  3. Jay on said:

    You have to wonder why these
    NRA gun cultists are such terrified snow flakes that they feel the need to live life armed and afraid.

  4. WIll Morrison on said:

    And this is the best that Burton can do? Character assassination without a single argument for anything said in the previous comment? That’s just plain sad.

    Seems to me that I had a LOT MORE rational thought in my comment than you did in yours. Nice try, but like all right wing arguments, all YOU show is emotion. Not a fact, figure, or even attempt at denying what I said. Just an attack. YOU are the pathetic one, here. TRY HARDER, you’re being nothing but an example of what you accuse me of.

    And that’s how I KNOW you’re a republican. Brain dead and insulting, and that’s on your more lucid days.

  5. stephen ellison on said:

    Seems like magazine li.its have had on effect except to criminalize your average citizen. As mentioned so many times. MENTAL HEALTH IS the PROBLEM, not magazine capacities

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