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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis On The Boulder Shooting And The Blocked Assault Weapon Ban

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Yesterday was the second mass shooting in the span of a week. Ten people were killed at a supermarket called King Soopers, south of downtown Boulder. Colorado has often drawn national attention for mass shootings in places like Aurora, Colorado Springs and Columbine, but the state is much more restrictive than others when it comes to gun laws. Here to talk with us about that is Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JARED POLIS: It's good to be on, Ari.

SHAPIRO: I understand you've been to this supermarket many times. And so before I ask you to respond to this shooting as Colorado's governor, can you just tell us about your personal connection to this location where it happened?

POLIS: Well, as a member of the Boulder community, this is one of the major supermarkets in town. It's in the same sort of plaza that our kids have their art camp near there, so - and everybody in Boulder knows it. Boulder's a small town, you know, 100,000 people or so, but it has that small town feel. I mean, this is a place where really everybody, you know, has gone just on - to run errands.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Now, the issue of gun violence has been on your radar since you took office, if not before. In 2019, you signed a red flag bill into law that allows a court to temporarily seize firearms from someone who might harm themselves or others. Given what we know about this case so far, do you think that law should have helped stop this shooting?

POLIS: Well, look. I think the facts of this case are just beginning to emerge. What the red flag law does is it allows a way where a loved one, like a parent, sibling, spouse, can seek a court order, an ability to temporarily deprive somebody of their gun if they're mentally unstable, if they're dangerous, for a period of time until they've recovered and can get that back. So it's been - it has - it's been used sparingly. It's been used appropriately.

SHAPIRO: A month after you signed that red flag bill into law in May of 2019, there was a mass shooting at a K-12 school in a Denver suburb. It killed one person and injured eight others. And at that time, people called on you as governor to take additional action to stop gun violence in Colorado. Do you wish that more had been done at that point?

POLIS: Well, look. You know, again, we don't yet know if there should have been red flag used or how it would have been used. It's really, appropriately so, really tightly prescribed in law. It provides a way that, you know, obviously, if your kids are under 18, a parent can take their guns whenever they want. But if somebody is 18, 19, 20 and they own guns, there's a lot of parents in this situation. I mean, this young man was 21. I don't know. We don't know the facts yet. Did the parents know something was up? Did they want to take the guns? Did they pursue red flag? I mean, these are all things that should be looked at. But there's a lot of instances where the parents in particular realized that their child might be a danger to themselves or others and really need that legal recourse.

SHAPIRO: There's also a lot of scrutiny right now in the city of Boulder's effort to ban assault weapons. That ban passed a few years ago. And then just 10 days before this shooting, it was blocked in court. What does that battle over Boulder's assault weapons ban say about the political realities of change in your state on this issue?

POLIS: Well, it's why we look towards, you know, national policies in scope. I think one of the biggest loopholes we have is a lack of a guaranteed background check. We have it in Colorado, universal background check. But the problem is we're only about two hours from Wyoming in parts of our state, you know, an hour from Utah. And it's relatively easy to avoid a background check if you just drive and buy a gun elsewhere. So I would love to see nationally that background check loophole closed so that criminals can't legally acquire firearms.

SHAPIRO: As you point out, the federal government has just consistently failed to take any meaningful action after so many mass shootings. It has become such a familiar pattern at this point. As Colorado's governor, what assurance can you give that this cycle won't just keep repeating, as it has for years in your state and others?

POLIS: Well, look. Right now, all of our grief and condolences are with the 10 families lost. Obviously, there'll be, you know, some of them who choose to will speak for their themselves about what, if any, changes they want. As we learn more about this case, we'll learn, you know, whether it has a nexus to gun safety, whether it has a nexus to mental health, whether there's a nexus to families or - you know, again, we - at this point, we just know the name and age of the suspect who has been apprehended. I understand he's being transferred today from prison - to prison from the hospital. And it's hard for any of us to even fathom what motive there could be for this horrific act of evil.

SHAPIRO: That's Democratic Governor Jared Polis of Colorado.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

POLIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.