AR-15-style Guns Flashpoint in Boulder County, National Debate After Florida Shooting

February 21, 2018 GMT

As the nation scrutinizes the AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle that Nikolas Cruz reportedly used last week to kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., a Boulder County gun dealer said he hasn’t seen more people wanting to buy the weapon.

The Armalite Rifle 15 is the civilian semi-automatic version of the U.S. military’s automatic M-16. A shooter must pull the trigger every time he or she wants to fire a shot from an AR-15-style rifle.

Armalite licensed the design to Colt’s Manufacturing Company, which has a trademark on the AR-15. Since the patents on the design expired by 1989, however, other firearm manufacturers have made their own versions of the popular gun.


The gun is popular due to its accuracy, reliability and ability to be customized, according to a USA Today article. Additionally, AR-15-style rifles have significantly less recoil than a shotgun, adding to the gun’s precision.

Besides the Parkland shooting, AR-15-style rifles have been used in some of the highest-profile mass shootings in the last seven years. James Holmes used one in the Aurora shooting in 2012; Adam Lanza used one in Newtown, Conn., in 2012; Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik used two in San Bernadino, Calif., in 2015; Omar Mateen used one in Orlando, Fla., in 2016, and Devin Kelley used one in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November.

Stephen Paddock used a stockpile of guns — including AR-15-style rifles modified with bump stocks to allow him to fire them more like fully-automatic weapons — to kill 58 people at a music festival in Las Vegas in October.

Rod Brandenburg, owner of Grandpa’s Pawn & Gun in Longmont, said Tuesday that he sells AR-15-style rifles but has not seen an increase in business or interest in the gun since the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14.

Both Bison Arms in Longmont and Gunsport in Boulder sell them, but employees did not want to comment for this story.

Jax Mercantile Co. — which has Colorado stores in Lafayette, Broomfield, Loveland and Fort Collins — says on the company’s website that “Jax has ceased replenishing inventory or taking special orders on any paramilitary assault weapons or high capacity magazines of more than 15 rounds.”

A call to the Jax corporate office was not returned Tuesday.

To buy a long gun such as a shotgun or a rifle, someone must be at least 18 years old and pass a federal background check via the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Form 4473.


The buyer must not: have any felonies on his or her record, be a fugitive, use marijuana or any other controlled substance as defined by the federal government, have been declared mentally defective by the courts or been committed to a mental institution (voluntary commitments and observation periods don’t count), have been dishonorably discharged from the military, have been convicted of any domestic violence misdemeanor or have ever renounced U.S. citizenship.

Colorado prohibits people facing domestic violence protective orders from having or buying firearms.

If the background check takes more than three business days, the dealer can sell the buyer the gun under federal law. Although federal law does not require a background check if the seller is not a licensed dealer, Colorado law does require a background check in that case.

While there is only one question on the form about mental health issues, Brandenburg said that he has trained his staff to engage potential gun buyers in conversation and not sell it to the person if they feel uncomfortable.

“We’re the first ones who would die, because we’re handling the gun, so you’re damn right that I’m looking at them, engaging them in conversation,” he said. “If I hand you a shotgun and you’ve got shells in your pocket, you can load that and kill us and take over the store. So if somebody is acting strange or makes a comment like, ‘I’m so mad at my wife or I’m pissed at my neighbor or I’m mad at the government,’ no, we’re not selling to that person.”

Brandenburg said that his employees have exercised that caution before, but it doesn’t happen often because most of his customers are repeat customers.

“There was this one guy pacing back and forth who wouldn’t make eye contact and he was acting strung out on something. (My employee) said, ‘I’m not comfortable doing this, guy. Not the way you’re acting,’ because I give my staff that latitude,” he said.

Karen Antonacci: 303-684-5226, antonaccik@times-call.com or twitter.com/ktonacci