U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse will introduce legislation in the House Thursday to prohibit people convicted of violent misdemeanors from purchasing a firearm for five years, a measure the Lafayette Democrat said could help prevent tragedies like the Boulder King Soopers massacre from happening again.
“It seems pretty clear to me in this case that this individual would not have been able to purchase a weapon had this law been the law of the land either in Colorado and ultimately at the federal level,” Neguse told The Denver Post in an interview Wednesday, speaking about the Boulder suspect.
That suspect in the March 22 King Soopers mass shooting that left 10 people dead was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 2018 after attacking a classmate at Arvada West High School the previous year. Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, then 18, punched the classmate in the head without warning, and when the boy fell to the ground, continued to punch him, according to an affidavit in the case.
Alissa was sentenced to probation and 48 hours of community service. But that didn’t stop him from purchasing a gun at an Arvada gunshop days before his deadly assault at the Boulder grocery store, Neguse said.
“We learned he had a well-documented history of violence, that he was convicted of third-degree assault — which is a violent misdemeanor — and that despite that conviction, he ultimately was legally eligible under state and federal law, it appears, to purchase a weapon,” the congressman said. “Which is untenable, in my view, and one that we can easily fix.”
But the prospect of Neguse’s bill, dubbed the End Gun Violence Act, getting through the Senate, which is evenly split between both political parties and where little gun control legislation has passed in recent decades, is uncertain at best. The congressman acknowledged as much but said “we should never assume that the Senate is impervious to public opinion.”
Colorado lawmakers, passed a bill this past spring that prohibits those convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes from buying a gun for five years. But Neguse’s office said with fewer than half the states having that kind of legislation, “these individuals are still eligible to purchase firearms in the remaining states, creating a patchwork of eligibility and increasing the risk of firearm-related violence.”
“In order to address this epidemic of gun violence, we have to propose a national solution to be implemented across the country,” Neguse said.
But Dave Kopel, research director at the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute and an advocate of Second Amendment rights, said what matters is which specific crimes are cited to stop someone from buying a gun.
“The Neguse bill is presumably going to be dependent on state law definitions of crimes, and state definitions vary widely,” Kopel said. “Some are tightly written, and some are so broad that the Neguse bill could prohibit the exercise of constitutional rights by people for very minor misconduct.”
Kopel said the bill could face the same pitfalls a 1980s federal law that sought to impose tougher sentences on those previously convicted of a felony involving “conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” faced in 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutionally vague.
“The vagueness problem is much easier to avoid at the state level, where the legislature can list the specific laws of the particular that trigger the prohibition,” Kopel said.
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty, the chief prosecutor in the King Soopers case, said Neguse’s bill is sound in that it “focuses on people who have recently proven to be of real danger to others in the community.”
“I think it’s ridiculous that someone who has been convicted of violent assault has the unfettered right to access firearms,” Dougherty said. “We need real action to reduce the ability of dangerous people to get firearms.”
The mother of a slain King Soopers employee, Teri Leiker, said Wednesday that a federal law “to help keep guns and ammunition out of the hands of people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes” is essential.
“State laws prohibiting gun sales to these type of individuals do not protect innocent people in other states who don’t have strict gun laws,” Margie Whittington said. “Federal legislation is absolutely necessary.”
Neguse’s office cites a 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that concludes “male handgun purchasers with one prior conviction for a violent misdemeanor, compared with those with no prior criminal history, are more than eight times as likely to be charged later with gun and/or violent crimes.”
“Inaction is not an option,” Neguse said. “(People) are tired of Congress abdicating its role to protect our community and keep us safe.”
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