Colorado was once again thrust into the national spotlight on Monday as the scene of a tragic mass shooting when ten people, including a police officer, were killed at King Soopers in Boulder.
In recent decades, some of the nation’s most high-profile acts of gun violence have occurred in Colorado, which has taken a toll on its residents and leaders.
In 1999 at Columbine High School, two students killed 12 others and a teacher before dying by suicide.
In 2012 at a movie theater in Aurora, a gunman opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 58 with gunshot wounds. The gunman, who had sealed off doors and used tear gas, was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2015 at Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, a shooting left three dead and nine others injured.
According to a database compiled by USA TODAY, Northeastern University and The Associated Press, Colorado had the sixth highest rate of public mass shootings out of the 50 states.
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But such incidents are rare events, making it hard to pinpoint why they occurred in one place and not another, according to James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law & Public Policy at Northeastern University.
“There’s going to be some clustering randomly,” he said.
The state’s rate of overall mass killings is among the nation’s lowest, and its gun laws are stricter than many other states, gun violence advocates say.
Robin Lloyd, managing director of Giffords, a group that seeks to combat gun violence across the U.S., said that Colorado is not unique in terms of overall incidents of gun violence.
“It does feel that this happens far too frequently, but I don’t think Colorado is an exception,” Lloyd said.
Across the country, gun violence occurs in a variety of ways, most frequently as suicides, Lloyd said. While mass shootings grab news headlines, they account for fewer deaths overall in terms of gun violence in the country.
The shooting Monday was the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than a week, after a gunman killed eight people, most women of Asian descent, at three spas in the Atlanta area.
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Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., whose district includes Boulder, said in a statement that “tragic incidents of gun violence have plagued our country for far too long.”
Neguse said he went to a high school near Columbine High School when the shooting occurred. Years later, he said he felt a similar fear when his niece was in kindergarten and in lock down at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch.
“Americans should feel safe in their grocery stores. They should feel safe in their schools, their movie theaters and in their communities. While Congress dithers on enacting meaningful gun violence prevention measures, Americans — and Coloradans — are being murdered before our very eyes — day after day, year after year,” Neguse added.
Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., told CNN that the shooting Monday “takes you right back to Aurora.”
“You know, they say you’re heavy hearted. And what it really means is you can’t breathe. I just feel so deeply for the people that are worried about their loved ones, those who know that they’ve lost a loved one or they’ve been injured,” Hickenlooper told Don Lemon.
Asked by Lemon how Colorado “deals with” having multiple shootings in such a short period of time, Hickenlooper replied, “In a way you can’t deal with it. You have to kind of get through it.”
“It really is an assault in a way on the whole community,” he added. “Especially once you’ve been through it a couple of times, again, your heart is just even heavier. It’s just harder to think and to breathe and to function when you feel so deeply for the people that have lost their lives, and their families.”
Are Colorado’s gun laws to blame?
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rated Colorado’s gun laws a C+ in its most recent annual ranking of gun laws.
However, that score placed it as the state with the 15th strongest gun law, according to the group’s ranking.
“Colorado has stronger gun laws than many states, but still has significant room for improvement. The state has the 18th-highest gun death rate,” the group said.
Among the gun control laws already in place in the state are a so-called “red flag” law to allow a judge to seize firearms from anyone deemed to be a risk to themselves or others, universal background checks and a ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
“Colorado has taken steps, particularly in recent years, to more meaningfully address gun violence, but it’s not like any one law will solve gun violence,” Lloyd said.
According to the Denver Post, a judge in Boulder last week blocked enforcement of city law banning assault-style firearms and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The judge cited a state law that prohibits localities from enforcing gun control measures stricter than state or federal law.
Lloyd said that preemption laws like the one in Colorado “interfere with a basic duty of local officials to protect their constituents.”
Boulder, for example, has a large college campus, so it’s possible that local lawmakers there wanted to take stronger action to protect students, Lloyd said.
“Local communities should be able to address whatever unique issue and dangers they may face,” she added.
According to the Giffords Law Center, Colorado does not have restrictions on assault-style firearms. The state also does not prohibit the open carry of firearms, does not have a waiting period for buying a firearm and does not require gun owners or purchasers to obtain a license, according to the Giffords Law Center.
Contributing: Mike James
Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller