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How was Sol Pais able to buy a gun in Colorado?

How Colorado's gun laws helped magnify the Columbine obsessive’s violent potential.

IDAHO SPRINGS CO - APRIL 17: Swat officers walk out of the woods near Echo Lake Campground in Arapaho National Forest after finding the body of  18-year-old Sol Pais on April 17, 2019 in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Authorities were looking for Pais, a woman from Florida, suspected of making threats. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
IDAHO SPRINGS CO - APRIL 17: Swat officers walk out of the woods near Echo Lake Campground in Arapaho National Forest after finding the body of 18-year-old Sol Pais on April 17, 2019 in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Authorities were looking for Pais, a woman from Florida, suspected of making threats. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

On Wednesday afternoon, authorities in Colorado reported that Sol Pais, an 18-year-old woman who was reportedly obsessed with the 1999 Columbine school shooting and was the subject of a statewide manhunt, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the base of Mount Evans. Pais attracted the attention of law enforcement after she traveled from Miami, Florida, to Denver, making what the Federal Bureau of Investigation referred to as “credible threats” of violence upon her arrival that led to citywide school closures.

As it turns out, the state’s own gun laws played a big role in magnifying Pais’ violent potential — something that law enforcement authorities made glancing mention of Wednesday morning, in the hours before her body was found. “Because of her comments and her actions. Because of her travel here to the state. Because of her procurement of a weapon immediately upon arriving here, we consider her to be a credible threat certainly to the community and potentially to schools,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips, according to CBS.

On Monday, Pais arrived in Colorado and almost immediately after arriving was able to walk into a gun shop and procure a pump-action shotgun and ammunition. At some point thereafter, authorities contend, she made a series of violent threats that were reported to law enforcement. It was subsequently revealed that Pais had an obsession with the Columbine High School mass shooting — the 20th anniversary of which will take place on Saturday.

Less than 48 hours later, the majority of schools in northern Colorado would be closed out of an abundance of caution, affecting nearly 500,000 students.

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The dark recollections of the mass-murder committed by Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, in which 12 students and one teacher lost their lives, still lingers in the minds of Coloradoans. And with an ever increasing list of similar incidents and perpetrators, many Americans have come to know the fear and the pain of similar school shootings. The persistent concern over where and when the next such massacre might take place is only exacerbated by our nations’ patchwork of gun laws.

On April 12, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed a “red flag” bill into law. The law allows authorities to temporarily seize a person’s gun at the behest of a judge if they are deemed to be credible threat to themselves or others. Similar laws have been passed in 14 states in a logical response to the increasingly noted connection between gun violence and domestic violence. However, in Colorado, the implementation of the “red flag” law has proven to be controversial. As CNN reports, “a growing number of sheriffs in the state have vowed to ignore the law when it takes effect next year,” even though they risk going to jail for failing to enforce the law.

More significantly, however, Colorado does not currently enforce a waiting period on gun purchasers. Anyone 18 years of age or older can walk into a shop in Colorado right now and walk out with a gun in the same transaction. If there had been a mandatory waiting period allowing for a thorough background check, Pais and the danger she posed might have been substantially lessened.

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Waiting periods or delays on delivery of the gun, allow for ample and thorough background checks, create the opportunity for mediation if needed, and provide people with a cooling off period if necessary. According to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), waiting periods “that delay the purchase of firearms by a few days reduce gun homicides by roughly 17%.” Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have waiting periods, and PNAS estimates that roughly 750 gun homicides are prevented annually by these means. The organization goes on to estimate that an additional 910 gun homicides a year would be prevented if this policy became the national standard.

Detractors of such laws point to the 2015 case of Carol Bowne, who, having purchased a gun for self-defense, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend during the weekslong waiting period imposed by the state of New Jersey. Nevertheless, as CNN reports, PNAS estimates that “delaying the purchase of guns by a couple of days could save nearly 1,700 lives a year.”