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Assaults Involving Firearms On The Rise In Colorado

Robert Nelson

Our partners at Guns & America wanted to better understand crimes involving guns in Colorado, so they analyzed 15 years worth of crime data , sent into the state by dozens of law enforcement agencies. Within that dataset, assaults and robberies are the offenses that included "firearm"' as a subcategory.

Guns & America focused on assaults particularly because of a growing trend: The number of assaults with a firearm are increasing.

This is what they found:

  • While the number of assaults committed with a firearm represented a small percentage of total crime, the number of these crimes rose sharply from 2001 to 2016, by around 200 percent.

  • After controlling for population, the trend is still there. Assaults per 10,000 Colorado residents more than doubled between 2001 and 2016.

  • The majority of these crimes happened in Aurora, Colorado Springs and Denver.

Why are these numbers going up?

Because Denver experiences more of these crimes than any other city in Colorado, Guns & America asked the Denver Police Department about some of the underlying causes.

"It is something that's been on our radar. Not only are we seeing an increase in the use of weapons in violent crimes, we're also seeing an association with younger victims and suspects,"said Ron Thomas, the division chief of patrol.

He says the department is still trying to understand what's drawing youth to these types of crimes.

"I don't know what has led to young people trying to get their hands on weapons and then use those weapons to commit violent crimes," he said, "but that does seem to be the consistent and growing trend."

Thomas said while some of it is gang-related, not all is.

"The common denominator is just youth. It points to the fact that we as a community and as a police agency and a city need to really engage with youth. We really are focused on our youth engagement city-wide, not even focusing in particular on any one neighborhood or any one school, just really the entire city," Thomas explained.

Another factor is the availability of weapons.

"We see a lot of guns ending up on the streets from property crimes. People are breaking into homes and into cars and recovering guns from those homes and cars," Kelly Waidler, a s enior deputy district attorney in the Denver DA's office, said.

Data from the Denver Police Department shows that more guns are being stolen out of vehicles, with thefts increasing by more than 200 percent since 2010. So far this year, at least 112 guns have been reported stolen from cars.

"I can say that in Denver, juveniles having handguns has increased a lot. (…) Young people are also using those handguns in the commission of violent crime," Waidler said. "That would include felony menacing, which is threatening somebody with a weapon. That would include aggravated assaults where a deadly weapon is used to commit an assault. That would include attempted murders and murderers. We've absolutely seen that increase."

Why are young people committing more crimes?

"That's the million-dollar question," Waidler said. "If we could completely pinpoint that, we could get a quick handle on it."

Waidler points to a few different reasons.

"One thing that I see a lot of is social media playing a role in this because young people are so connected through technology that it is very easy for them to set up robberies," he said, "it is very easy for them to air a grievance they have with another young person and have that be very public and then to engage in some sort of violent crime."

Stay tuned for more reporting on what young people themselves think about this trend.

How does Colorado compare to other states?

There are two ways to look at it. First, the number of assaults with a firearm: In 2016, there were around 3,600 in Colorado. According to FBI data , that is the 17th highest number in the country.

Second, the rate of firearm assaults shows that Colorado falls roughly in the middle, with 70 incidents per 100,000 people. Oklahoma and Indiana have similar rates.

As KUNC's Senior Editor and Reporter, my job is to find out what’s important to northern Colorado residents and why. I seek to create a deeper sense of urgency and understanding around these issues through in-depth, character driven daily reporting and series work.
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