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Colorado, which has been haunted by gun crime, is confronted with a difficult past.



Colorado, which has been haunted by gun crime, is confronted with a difficult past.
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Colorado, which has been haunted by gun crime, is confronted with a difficult past.

Colorado, which has been haunted by gun crime, is confronted with a difficult past.


Dawn Reinfeld came to Colorado 30 years ago to attend college in Boulder, a picturesque place. She remained because she was enchanted by the state’s vast open spaces.

But, over the years, dark events have clouded her perception of her adopted home. The Columbine High School shooting in 1999. The Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012. Reinfeld was reeling from the latest mass shooting much closer to home on Wednesday, when police said a 21-year-old gunned down shoppers at a nearby supermarket.

Reinfeld, a gun control protester, said, “I could see myself leaving at some stage because of all of this.” “It’s a draining way of life.”

Colorado’s jagged mountains and outdoor lifestyle have long attracted transplants from all over the world. However, it has also been plagued by massacres that have helped characterize the country’s decades-long war on terrorism. Many in the state were grappling with that past the day after the latest shooting, wondering why their home has become a magnet for such assaults. Why am I back here — once again?

Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine High School in 1999, said, “People now say, ‘gee, what is it about Colorado?'”

In the aftermath of the new assault, Mauser, now a gun control advocate, was answering phone calls, one of which was a desperate call from a friend whose daughter was shopping in the supermarket and had narrowly survived the shooting. The brutality felt so close once more.

“It has a huge impact on so many people. He said, “It’s become ubiquitous.”

According to Jillian Peterson, a criminology professor at Hamline University in Minnesota, Colorado isn’t the state with the most mass shootings; it ranks eighth in the nation, alongside much larger states like California and Florida.

However, it is inextricably linked to some of the most high-profile shootings. The Columbine High School massacre is now regarded as the bloody start of a new age of mass violence. The Aurora shooting brought school-level horror to a movie theater.

Others are less well-known on a global level. After storming a high school in the mountain town of Bailey in 2006, a gunman killed a 16-year-old teen. The following year, a gunman opened fire on two evangelical Christian churches in suburban Denver and Colorado Springs, killing four people. Three people were killed in a 2015 attack in Colorado Springs on a Planned Parenthood clinic. Three people were killed in a Walmart shooting in 2017 by a gunman whose reasons were never revealed. Kendrick Castillo, 18, was killed in 2019 while fending off an armed assault by two classmates at a suburban Denver high school.

There are no simple explanations in the quest for answers. Despite its Western picture, Colorado has a fairly typical rate of gun ownership for the region, with more shopping centers than shooting ranges in its populated landscape. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is near the middle of the pack in terms of all forms of gun violence, ranking 21st in the world.

According to Peterson, who has written about mass shootings as a viral phenomenon in which one shooter is motivated by news of other attacks, the Columbine shooting may be one of the reasons Colorado has suffered so much. Two student shooters killed 13 people and “wrote the script” that many other mass shooters are trying to follow. The assailants died in the massacre, but they were immortalized in movies and books and made the cover of Time Magazine.

“Columbine was the real turning point in this country, so it makes sense that you’d see more of them in Columbine’s backyard,” Peterson said.

The attack took place nearly a decade ago; Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, the shooter in the Boulder massacre, was born three days before the Columbine shooting.

Esteban Luevano, 19, like many other young Coloradans, only heard about Columbine in school as a disaster that happened before he was born. As a boy, however, its long shadow frightened him, and he wondered if gunmen might also storm his school.

When Luevano was 11, another gunman opened fire at a movie theater near his home in Aurora, Colorado, east of Denver and across the metro area from Columbine’s leafy suburbs. A total of 12 people were killed and 70 others were injured.

Since then, the theater has been demolished and restored. As the snow started to swirl and Luevano bundled up to go into a mall across the street, it stood empty on Tuesday, shuttered during the pandemic. He was also reeling from the news that the tony, college town of Boulder had become the newest Colorado city to join the grim brotherhood.

“It’s pretty fancy,” Luevano said, “so it kind of surprised me that anyone would shoot out there.”

Colorado has taken several steps to limit gun ownership.

The local gun control movement has gained heartbroken new recruits after each of Colorado’s worst mass shootings. Survivors of the Columbine High School massacre, as well as family members of the victims, worked to get a ballot measure passed that mandated background checks for weapons purchased at gun shows. Following the Aurora shooting, the state’s newly Democratic legislature mandated background checks for all gun sales, as well as a 15-round magazine limit.

Two state senators were forced to resign as a result of the legislation, but the laws remained in place. Following the Parkland shooting in Florida in 2018, the Colorado legislature passed legislation allowing for the confiscation of weapons from individuals who pose a threat. Some rural sheriffs have rebelled, but there have been no recalls so far.

Boulder, Colorado, went even further three years ago, banning assault weapons. The measure had been stopped by a court just ten days before the rampage on Monday.

One place to track the effect of mass shootings, according to gun control advocates, is in state politics. In 2018, Aurora’s Republican congressman was succeeded by Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a supporter of gun control. John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor who signed the post-Aurora gun control measures, defeated Colorado’s last major statewide elected Republican in November.

Even now, the hunger for gun rights advocates hasn’t quite subsided. Last year, Coloradans also elected Lauren Boebert, a Republican from a rural district who said she wanted to be able to carry a gun on the House floor.

Tom Sullivan, a Democrat, was elected to a previously Republican state house district in 2018, after his son Alex was killed in the Aurora shooting. He was out with a friend on Monday afternoon and didn’t learn about the new assault until he returned home.

When he did, he switched on the television to watch, describing it as a “timeout” to take in all of the victims’ suffering and life stories.

In an interview, Sullivan said, “It’s not that we’re numb to it; it’s that we’ve had a lot of practice.”

Sullivan argued that the number of mass shootings in Colorado isn’t unusually high. It’s just that the attacks are more sensationalized because of the comparatively prosperous state’s backdrop. “The ones that are taking place here in Colorado are in a little more affluent areas,” Sullivan explained. “It happens elsewhere as well; we just can’t get people to report it.”

Not everyone who has been affected by the state’s history of mass shootings has been a supporter of gun control. Brian Rohrbough, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine, expressed his displeasure with political activists who raise the topic after mass shootings. Instead, he proposes that moral education be implemented.

“We’re reaping what we’ve sown because we’re afraid to call evil evil as a state, as a country,” Rohrbough said.

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