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Column: Bubble of Boulder is broken, like our gun laws

Mourners walk the temporary fence around a King Soopers grocery store where multiple victims died in a mass shooting, Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you’ve ever driven to Boulder, you know that view.

You know that ribbon of Highway 36 that cuts northwest out of Denver, how it undulates over golden hills and fields until it rises in a last, grand crest that briefly hides for dramatic effect the breathtaking view beyond of blue Flatirons, green valley and the magical city that changed this Albuquerque girl forever.

That view never failed to make my heart flip. It made me feel like I was one of the fortunate ones to have called this place home, at least for awhile.

Highway 36 is known on maps and signage as the Denver-Boulder Turnpike, but I never heard it called that. It was always the Boulder-Denver Turnpike.

That’s how it was. Boulder always saw itself as above it all, privileged and proud and apart from the ordinary world. It was a liberal college town that believed in love and peace and parties. If there was any crime, violence or ugliness, I was never aware of it. Someone quite aptly described Boulder as Disneyland for adults, a hedonistic, perfect place where you never had to grow up.

In the 1970s and ’80s when I lived there – first as a University of Colorado student and then as a carefree dropout – I certainly never did. After I moved away and inevitably grew up to some degree, I returned to Boulder from time to time to drop out of the real life to luxuriate again in that beautiful bubble.

On Monday, that bubble burst with the blast of bullets from an AR-556 that killed 10 people, including a Boulder police officer originally from Albuquerque, at a King Soopers grocery store.

Once again, America hears the chorus: We never thought it could happen here.

Once again, America was wrong.

I was wrong.

And here comes the rest of that old, tired song: The left demands sensible gun reform to keep firearms out of the hands of those too unstable, too angry or too criminal to responsibly use one; the right complains that the left is trying to take guns away from law-abiding folk and that any reform is not only a blight on the Second Amendment but won’t stop the bloodshed anyway.

It doesn’t matter how many children are slaughtered, how many students, spa workers, shoppers, churchgoers, synagogue-goers, gurdwaras-goers, moviegoers, concertgoers, nightclub-goers are killed. Nothing changes.

Boulder tried. In 2018, the city enacted an ordinance outlawing assault weapons. But just 10 days before Monday’s mass shooting, a judge blocked the measure, ruling that state law allowing the sale and possession of such firearms trumps city law.

Monday’s massacre was carried out with a Ruger AR-556 pistol, an assault weapon that would have been banned by the ordinance.

It’s not likely the accused shooter, who hails from the Denver suburb of Arvada, would have known or cared about the ordinance had it survived in court.

But what else could have been done to keep a weapon of mass destruction away from someone hellbent on mass destruction? A federal ban on certain assault weapons? On large-capacity magazines? Tougher background checks? Closing the Charleston loophole? Age limits? Licensing?

Shall we talk about how to stem the bleeding, perhaps introduce a bill or two, hold a march, stage a protest, tuck flowers near the site where blood was shed? Will we then move on, nothing done, nothing changed?

That this latest mass shooting happened in a city like Boulder is striking in that for as long as I have known it, it has been an enclave apart from the obsession over guns and the ensuing gun violence so pervasive across much of the West. That includes the rest of Colorado, which gave us the tragedies of Columbine and the Aurora movie theater mass shootings.

In 2013, Colorado booted two Democrat state senators – not from Boulder – in special elections over their support of gun restrictions. Last year, it sent Lauren Boebert, a gun-toting, diehard Second Amendment worshipper not from Boulder, to Congress.

Even Boulder’s now-derailed 2018 assault weapons ban was prompted not by local gun violence but by the mass shooting that year at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff.

“Boulder banned assault weapons because it made us feel safer to do that,” Rep. Edie Hooton, a Boulder Democrat, told The Denver Post.

That feeling of safety is gone now.

Boulder has, not surprisingly, changed since I lived there. The student ghetto – though it hardly qualified as ghetto with its tree-lined streets and Victorian houses so close to the majestic Flatirons that you could see hikers along the trails – has been gentrified, inhabited now by well-paid professionals and well-off families. Pearl Street Mall is crowded with upscale restaurants and boutiques.

Highway 36 has been widened to include express lanes and more exits to the encroaching suburbs that cover the once golden hills and fields.

That scenic overlook that made my heart flip has been modernized and popularized with bike trails, benches and a dog park.

The view is still breathtaking. But now it looks like another community grieving over the needless shooting deaths of too many too quickly, too impossible to prevent, too unlikely to change anything.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

 

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