Judge upholds Colorado’s gun laws, tosses lawsuit; plaintiffs will appeal
DENVER — A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit aimed at overturning Colorado’s new gun laws, upholding the expansion of background checks on private gun sales and transfers and the ban on magazines of more than 15 rounds, FOX31 Denver is first to report
“The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of the defendant on all claims and to close this case,” reads the final ruling from Chief U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger.
PDF: Read the full ruling
In Krieger’s view, neither the magazine ban nor the background check expansion unreasonably burden gun owners or sellers.
The ruling comes roughly a week after Gov. Hickenlooper tried to smooth things over with a group of sheriffs, who’d originally been plaintiffs in the lawsuit (Krieger ruled they couldn’t be plaintiffs in their official capacity as sheriffs) and remain angry about the tougher gun laws.
Nearly 30 organizations and individuals, including a few Colorado sheriffs, are listed as plaintiffs in the case including Magpul, the magazine manufacturer currently relocating from Erie to Wyoming because of the magazine ban.
Late Thursday afternoon at a press conference at the Independence Institute, Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and attorney Dave Kopel announced they planned to appeal the ruling up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and even to the Supreme Court if necessary.
“We believe [Krieger] got it wrong as a matter of law,” Kopel said. “We think we have a very strong case in the court of appeals.”
Cooke, who is running for the state senate, made sure to reference Hickenlooper’s acknowledgment to a group of sheriffs 13 days earlier that the laws may be difficult to enforce and his regrets about the legislative process through which they were passed.
“John Hickenlooper knows that the Bloomberg anti-gun laws are a failure and as sheriffs everyday we fight to protect the safety and rights of law-abiding citizens of Colorado,” Cooke said. “We will continue to fight and we look forward to presenting our case to a higher court.”
The gun laws were the most controversial aspect of the last legislative session placing Democrats, who wanted new gun control laws following mass shootings, including the Arapahoe High School shooting and the Aurora theater shooting, versus Republicans who claimed the laws violated Second Amendment rights.
“The judge today offered a thorough and reasoned opinion and recognized that the state’s new gun laws do not unduly burden anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” said Hickenlooper’s spokesman Eric Brown. We appreciate the good work that the Attorney General’s team did to represent the state and defend the law.”
Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, issued a statement saying “the Colorado Attorney General’s Office has never asserted that the laws in question are good, wise or sound policy. As it does in all cases, the AG’s Office has fulfilled its responsibility to defend the constitutionality of the Colorado law in question.”
“The Attorney General’s Office fully expects the case to be appealed and looks forward to final resolution of the issues as soon as possible,” the statement said.
Former state Sen. John Morse, who was recalled last year in Colorado Springs because of his support for the gun laws said, “We’ve know all along that these laws are constitutionally sound.”
“Maybe now that a federal judge has agreed with us, the sheriff’s will stop politicizing them,” Morse said.
Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who carried both pieces of legislation as both the prime sponsor and the mother to a son gunned down by gang members, told FOX31 Denver Thursday that she is “thrilled” about the ruling.
“It validates the work we’ve done,” she said.
“Today is an important day in the fight to keep our communities and families safe from gun violence,” said Rita Schweitz, co-chair of the Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence, in a statement. “Colorado’s universal background checks law is a common-sense solution to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and we now have the Court’s validation of what we have asserted from the outset – these laws do not violate anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights.”
Here are some key passages from the 50-page ruling released Thursday:
On the magazine ban:
“It is clear from the legislative history that the General Assembly adopted the 15-round restriction in the effort to balance the ability of individuals to lawfully use semiautomatic weapons in self-defense, while limiting the capability of unlawful shooters to fire repeatedly. It considered a more restrictive limit of 12 rounds, but rejected that at the request of citizens and law enforcement officials. Instead, it chose the 15-round limit based on evidence that officers of the numerous state and federal law enforcement agencies all successfully use magazines with 15 or fewer rounds.
“Whether adoption of a fifteen-round magazinelimit is a sound public policy or a perfect fit with the General Assembly’s objective to improve publicsafety is not the question before this Court.”
On the background check expansion:
“It does not prevent a person otherwise permitted to obtain a firearm from acquiring one, nor subject that person to any greater burdens than he or she would face if acquiring the weapon commercially. Nothing in the Second Amendment can be read to suggest that a permissible burden on commercial sales of firearms cannot similarly be extended to apply to those acquiring firearms by loan.
“The evidence shows that there are more than 600 firearms dealers in Colorado that are actively performing private checks, and that, currently, it takes an average of less than fifteen minutes for a check to be processed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
On the law’s 72-hour transfer window before mandatory reporting:
“The Court perceives this argument to be one of preferred policy. The Court’s role in this case is to determine whether § 18-12-112 impermissibly burdens protected Second Amendment rights. What the legislature chooses to exempt from the statute’s requirements is a determination that is left solely to the legislature. The legislature was free to conclude, as it did, that 72 hours would be an adequate period of time to permittransfers without background checks while ensuring that sham loans would not occur beyond that timeframe. Whether or not the legislature’s policy decision was wise or warranted is not a question properly presented to this Court.”