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A push for gun control is pledged once more in wake of Boulder shooting

From left, Nirbisha Shrestha embraces Josie Elowsky on Tuesday at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo. (Rachel Woolf for The Washington Post)
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BOULDER, Colo. — The mass shooting that left 10 people dead in Boulder has reignited calls for gun-control measures at the local and federal level, with lawmakers pressing for legislative action to ban assault weapons, and activists urging officials to get "weapons of war" off the streets.

A day after the massacre — one of the biggest mass-casualty events in the region since the Columbine High School attack of 1999 — President Biden called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as well as an expansion of background checks for gun sales.

Gun-control advocates have tried to push through these initiatives over the past decade, but Republicans and gun rights advocates have long throttled these efforts, and have continued to speak out against changes, even after two mass shootings in a week left 18 dead in Colorado and Atlanta.

Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver (D) said in an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday that he would fight for stronger gun-control laws.

“I intend to advocate strongly, so I will testify down at the statehouse, I will do whatever I can at the federal level,” said Weaver, who spoke Wednesday with Biden about the shooting and next steps. “The fight is not over because of the tragedy of Monday. We will continue, I will continue to work on this issue as much as I can.”

Weaver also said his city would appeal a ruling by a Boulder County district judge that blocked the city’s 2018 ban on assault weapons less than two weeks before the rampage.

Authorities say the suspect in Monday’s grocery store shooting, 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa of Arvada, Colo., had purchased an AR-15-style firearm on March 16 that would have fallen under the assault weapons ban that had been in place.

Dawn Reinfeld, a Boulder resident and co-founder of the gun violence prevention group Blue Rising, said that they were calling for the city to fight in court to reinstate the assault weapons ban and expand it statewide. The group also advocates a mandatory waiting period to buy guns in Colorado.

“Now is the time,” she said. “Weapons of war do not belong in our communities and in our streets.”

Vice President Harris also called on Congress to pass legislation to end the nation’s plague of mass shootings. “The slaughters have to stop,” she said on “CBS This Morning.”

Colorado’s firearms community, meanwhile, has urged caution.

The Colorado State Shooting Association, one of the plaintiffs that sued Boulder over the assault weapons ban, said in a statement that “there will be a time for the debate on gun laws. . . . But today is not the time.”

On Wednesday, the city of 106,000 flanked by snow-capped mountains made plans to remember the dead as investigators continued to search for a motive in the attack.

Alissa was charged Tuesday with 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder in the killings Monday at a King Soopers grocery store, which sent dozens of survivors running for their lives.

Authorities said Alissa, who had a history of erratic and violent behavior, was set to appear in court Thursday morning. His appearance in Boulder County court will be the first time he has been seen in public since police arrested him outside the store, stripped to his shorts with blood from a gunshot wound rushing down one leg.

In a news release Wednesday, the district attorney’s office in Boulder County said Alissa’s hearing this week would be live-streamed.

“It is anticipated that this Appearance will be the first court appearance in what will likely be a lengthy court process,” the district attorney’s office said in the release.

On Wednesday night, locals gathered at several prayer vigils to honor the victims, who ranged in age from 20 to 65 and include three store employees and a Boulder police officer, Eric Talley, a father of seven who was first on the scene and suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

At a news conference Wednesday morning in Lafayette, Colo., an uncle of one victim, Rikki Olds, 25, remembered his niece as a “light” in their family who loved the outdoors and dreamed of becoming a store manager at King Soopers.

She was one of the employees killed at the store along with Teri Leiker, 51, who was a huge University of Colorado sports fan, and Denny Stong, 20, the youngest victim, who was training to become a pilot.

“When Rikki showed up at the house, we never knew what color her hair was going to be, we never knew what tattoo she may have,” Robert Olds said. “But that was Rikki, and Rikki lived life on her terms.”

These are the victims of the Boulder shooting

In an emotional question-and-answer session, Olds smiled one minute remembering how his niece snorted when she laughed, and was saddened the next while talking about how she would not experience marriage or motherhood.

He was joined by Carlee Lough, a mutual friend who worked with Rikki at King Soopers. Lough said Rikki, whose nickname was “Wendy” because she usually wore her hair in braids, would do anything to make them smile, including dancing to music at work.

“If you needed a pick-me-up, you knew where to go,” Lough said.

The last contact Olds tried to have with Rikki was a text message as the shooting was unfolding: “Are you okay?”

Rikki never responded, he said.

“There’s a hole in our family that won’t be filled,” he said. “We try to fill it with memories, but, you know, that’s tough. It’s tough.”

The other victims were Kevin Mahoney, 61, a retiree from hospitality development awaiting the birth of a granddaughter; Suzanne Fountain, 59, a member of a Denver theater troupe, Lynn Murray, 62, a former photo editor; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49, who ran a popular clothing store; Jody Waters, 65, who also worked in retail; and Neven Stanisic, 23, a refugee who had fled war-torn Bosnia as a youth and was in the store fixing the coffee machines at the time of the shooting.

Until two lethal rampages this month, mass shootings had largely been absent from headlines during the coronavirus pandemic. But people still died of gun violence at a record rate — nearly 20,000 Americans last year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, more than any other year in at least two decades.

Even though the rate of mass shootings slowed last year, there have been at least seven mass shootings since the pandemic started, according to The Post’s public mass shootings database.

New details also began to emerge Wednesday about Alissa’s background. He was one of 11 siblings in a family that immigrated to the United States from Raqqa, Syria, two decades ago and opened a string of restaurants in the area.

In a now-deleted Facebook page, Alissa posted pictures of his high school wrestling career, exhortations to prayer and other memes from his Muslim faith and the hashtag: #NeedAGirlfriend. Alissa’s family was trying to find a wife for him, but without success, a cousin told The Post.

Alissa began exhibiting violent tendencies in high school, records show.

After a classmate allegedly called him a “terrorist” and an ethnic slur, Alissa had a look of “pure anger” on his face as he punched the student in November 2017 to the point that the teen was bleeding and his eye was partially shut, according to a police report from the Arvada, Colo., Police Department.

Alissa pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree assault the next year, according to police records. The records were first reported by the Daily Beast and KDVR.

Alissa told police at the time that a classmate had been bullying him in several ways over the course of a year, from calling him a “terrorist” to posting a Snapchat video in which the student allegedly called Alissa a “nerd.”

On Nov. 27, 2017, math teacher Stephanie Bashford was just about to wrap up her fifth-period class when she heard some students yelling, according to police. When she turned around, the teacher reportedly saw Alissa punching the student in the face. She and another student broke up the altercation, police said.

Alissa told Arvada officers that he didn’t remember the incident that much. The reason, he said, was because he “could not take it anymore, so I blacked out and rushed him.”

A separate police report from 2018 showed that Alissa was accused of criminal mischief stemming from an altercation with an ex-girlfriend. He was not charged in the incident.

Arvada police confirmed the 2017 and 2018 incidents to The Post. Officials said they would be addressing the suspected gunman’s past incidents more in coming days.

Scott Wilson in Boulder and Reis Thebault, Danielle Rindler, Sean Sullivan, Paul Kane, Seung Min Kim, Paulina Villegas and Aaron Blake in Washington contributed to this report.