Colorado Supreme Court To Decide Fate Of Ban On High-Capacity Magazines

Ed Andrieski/AP Photo
The sale of guns like these was made illegal in Colorado in 2013 because their magazines hold more than 15 rounds.
Photo: Guns with high-capacity magazine (AP Photo)
The sale of guns like these is now illegal in Colorado because their magazines hold more than 15 rounds.

The fight over one of the most controversial gun bills ever to come out of the state Capitol rages on.

Colorado’s ban on gun magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition was one of a handful of gun control measures passed in the aftermath of the 2013 Aurora theater shooting.

State gun lobby Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and its executive director, Dudley Brown, originally sued the state in 2016. They say the law is unconstitutional.

But state district courts ruled that prohibiting the sale, transfer or possession of large-capacity magazines for firearms was constitutional. In 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision saying the statue was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police power for the protection of public health and safety.

Now Colorado’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and Brown thinks that is a good sign.

“We think it's a good indicator that not only were our arguments persuasive that this magazine ban really hasn't done anything to stop crime and also that the California case, which struck down California's magazine prohibition, has some bearing on our case,” he said.

While RMGO has been unsuccessful thus far in convincing courts to repeal this statute, they aren’t alone in their opposition. Republican Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone has sponsored bills to repeal the high-capacity magazine ban since 2014. She also pointed to the complete repeal of similar laws in California last month.

A federal judge came to the same conclusion as required by the [U.S.] Constitution and blocked California's ban on magazines able to hold 10 rounds or more,” Saine said. “Similarly, the Colorado magazine ban imposes a burden on the constitutional right of citizens to protect themselves."

Democratic state Sen. Rhonda Fields served as member of the state House for Aurora when she sponsored the magazine ban in 2013 along with then-Democratic Sen. Mary Hodge. Hodge is now an Adams County Commissioner.

“Everybody has a right to his day in court. I guess we leave it up to the courts to decide, but I still think we need to do more to prevent gun violence,” Hodge said. “I haven’t evolved at all. I think I’m still in the same place.”

Massive backlash after a contentious legislative session led to two Colorado lawmakers being ousted in recall elections.

The Independence Institute’s Research Director Dave Kopel said that the way the Colorado statute is written could be seen as a violation of gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.

“I think it’s certainly a fair argument,” Kopel said. “If you follow the plain language of the statue there’s no question this is unconstitutional.”

Kopel was the lead lawyer in another lawsuit stemming from the 2013 gun laws. In that case, state sheriffs attempted to sue the state in federal court for violating their Second Amendment rights, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit decided it did not have jurisdiction in the case.

Even after the state’s Supreme Court makes a decision on the case, the issue may not be resolved.

Judges vote differently in each state on constitutional concerns. An appeal of a Colorado Supreme Court decision, whatever that decision is, could force the U.S. Supreme Court to ultimately decide.