Ten people were shot and killed in the parking lot and aisles of a Boulder, Colorado, supermarket on Monday afternoon. Among those killed was a police officer who entered the store in response to reports of shots fired. Witnesses reported hearing up to thirty shots. Police report that a “person of interest” is in custody, suspected to be a shirtless man seen being led from the store in handcuffs. While police have not yet identified the suspect or detailed the weapon involved, the number of rapid fire shots suggests a semiautomatic weapon, and CNN cites a law-enforcement official as saying that the weapon was an AR-15 style rifle.
The shooting comes less than two weeks after Colorado blocked the city of Boulder from enforcing a local ordinance banning AR-15 style weapons and magazines with a greater than 10 shot capacity, as reported by the Denver Post. Just six days before the shooting, the NRA celebrated the ruling in a tweet calling it “an NRA victory in Colorado.”
On Monday afternoon, the as-yet unnamed suspect used an AR-15 rifle for exactly the purpose for which these guns are designed: killing a large number of humans in a short period of time.
Though 2020 brought a pandemic and economic disaster, the isolation carried with it a decline in mass shootings. Six mass shootings were reported for the year, with two of those occurring before the pandemic began. This followed 18 such shootings in 2019, and 19 mass shootings in 2018. But the new year has already brought seven mass shootings, with events in Boulder coming just a week after a series of shootings in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, including six Asian American women.
The officer killed in the Boulder shooting was identified as Eric Talley, aged 51. Talley was the father of seven children. The other murder victims have not yet been named.
Some of those who escaped the shooting in Boulder by running out the back of the store and exiting through loading ramps report that the shooter didn’t say anything. He began shooting people in the parking lot outside, entered the store, and kept on shooting. Reuters has drone footage showing a bearded white man—apparently both shirtless and shoeless—being led away by police. Blood can be seen on his leg, and it is assumed that he is the suspect in the shooting.
The NRA posts reporting the overturn of Boulder’s ban on such assault weapons last week was particularly festive, trumpeting their support of the effort to block the ordinance and warning other cities that they would be back to fight any localities “who are considering passing any similar counterproductive ordinances.” Counterproductive, in NRA terms, meant that it was an impediment to obtaining a machine whose singular purpose is killing people in quantity.
The ruling was based on a provision of Colorado law passed in 2003—a year in which Republicans controlled the Colorado house, senate, and governorship. Regulation states that a local government can’t enact a ban on any type of weapon that can be purchased under federal law. The law remains in place, even though Democrats have controlled all three parts of the Colorado government since 2019.
In 2000, around 85,000 AR-15 style rifles were sold. In 2005, after the assault weapons ban ended, the number jumped to 125,000. By 2008, sales exceeded 300,000. In 2012, sales exceeded 1 million for the first time. They’ve never fallen below that line since. The AR-15 now accounts for about a third of all rifles sold. And while 2020 may have dented most items in the economy, it was a record year for firearms sales.
When news sources or right-wing politicians call the AR-15 “America’s most popular rifle,” it’s worth remembering that this is a very recent phenomenon. Two decades ago, these were rare rifles owned by a small percentage of Americans who owned guns. A short time ago, the majority of rifles fell into two categories—.22 rimfire rifles used primarily for target shooting and small game; larger caliber centerfire rifles, many of them bolt or lever action, used in hunting deer and large game. Something like the AR-15 was an exotic item, even for people who owned guns.
In those two decades, deer did not become enormously smarter. Rabbits did not become bulletproof. Groundhogs did not learn to dodge. People did not buy these rifles to hunt any of the above.
The truth is that the most popular rifle sold in America today is not designed for hunting or for pecking at paper targets. It is designed for exactly what it did in Boulder on Monday afternoon—leaving bodies strewn in its wake. There is no defense against such a weapon. Not only was one of those who died a police officer who entered the store knowing that a shooting was in progress, it’s a fair bet that others in the store were armed. Concealed carry is legal everywhere in Colorado. None of that would matter, because this type of rifle is designed to allow the murder of multiple people before there can be any possible response. Millions of Americans have purchased rifles that are only really good at killing millions of other Americans.