Colorado Supreme Court: Ban On High-Capacity Magazines Is Legal

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.

The state Supreme Court on Monday upheld a 2013 state law banning sales of high-capacity magazines, throwing out a years-long challenge by a gun rights group that the ban violates the state’s constitution.

State lawmakers passed the ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds in the wake of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, in which 12 people died and 70 were injured. The shooter, James Holmes, used multiple weapons, including a semi-automatic rifle fitted with a 100-round drum, which jammed during the attack. 

In a unanimous ruling issued Monday, state justices looked at whether the law banning high-capacity magazines was legal under the state’s constitution — rather than the Second Amendment in the U.S. constitution. 

Colorado’s constitution states, “The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question ..."

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners argued the ban prevents Coloradans from protecting themselves and their property.

But Colorado’s justices disagreed — finding the law is squarely under the state’s police powers and doesn’t burden anyone’s right to self-defense.

“The overwhelming evidence demonstrated that limiting magazine capacity to 15 rounds does not significantly interfere with the core of Coloradans’ … rights to bear arms in self-defense,” the justices wrote, in the ruling. “Indeed, testimony at trial established that in no case had a person fired even five shots in self-defense, let alone 10, 15, or more.”

Democratic State Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora, who sponsored the law when she was in the House, said she was glad the court upheld what she called "common-sense gun safety reform."

"The only purpose of large-capacity magazines is to inflict mass casualties, and that is exactly what they have been used for across the country and in our own backyard," she said in a statement. "We need robust measures in place to end the cycle of terrorizing violence against our communities, and this law helps do just that."

The ruling was a victory for former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who signed the legislation back in 2013. Five of the seven justices on the court were appointed by Hickenlooper, including Justice Carlos Samour, who presided over the trial of the Aurora Theater shooter prior to his appointment.

In a video statement posted Monday, Hickenlooper, now a Democratic Senate candidate, said, “we took on the NRA and won to pass life-saving gun safety measures. I’m thrilled that the Colorado Supreme Court has upheld this crucial legislation.”

The magazine limit prompted ammunition maker Magpul to leave Colorado and move its operations to Wyoming. The law does grandfather in large-capacity magazines purchased before the ban went into effect.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners executive director Dudley Brown said the opposition to the bill helped galvanize support for the organization.

“While we regrettably didn’t win our main point, we could not be more thankful for the support we have received on this case,” Brown said, in a statement. “This fight has taken courage from hundreds of thousands of RMGO members — from swarming the State Capitol back when this fight started in 2013, to donating to our legal fund to keep this case alive, we could not have done it without our members’ support.”

Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, said the law “will decrease the deadly impacts of mass shootings by reducing the number of people who will be shot during a mass shooting incident, and it will save lives.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misspelled Justice Carlos Samour's name.