Colorado’s new age limit for gun purchases took effect — and was then blocked by a judge — on the same day

AP Photo
Guns are displayed at Dragonman’s, an arms seller east of Colorado Springs.

Updated 5:24 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 7, 2023

Starting Monday, a new state law in Colorado was expected to raise the purchase age for all firearms to 21.

Hours after it was supposed to go into effect, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Philip A. Brimmer blocked it with a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit.

The nonprofit Rocky Mountain Gun Owners had sued Gov. Jared Polis to stop the new law, which Polis signed back in April. Two other plaintiffs, Tate Mosgrove and Adrian Pineda, said they wanted to buy guns for self-defense in their homes but would be blocked by the new law.

The injunction will remain in place while the case proceeds, meaning people 18 and over can continue to buy all firearms in Colorado.

The judge wrote that the new state law “likely causes a violation of the Individual Plaintiffs’ individual constitutional rights,” resulting in “irreparable injury.”

The ruling shows that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen ruling last summer may cast a long shadow over Colorado Democrats’ gun reform efforts.

In Bruen, the high court ruled that the government must prove there is historical precedent for their new proposals.

The Polis administration argued that there is, in fact, a “longstanding history of placing age restrictions on firearm purchases.” The administration cited English common law, which did not historically grant “full contractual” rights to people under 21, as well as Founding Era rules and laws about gun possession by college students and people who refused to swear allegiance to the United States.

The Polis administration also cited laws passed in the 1800s, including in Kentucky and Alabama to limit the sales of pistols to minors, as well as more widespread laws enacted by the states by the early 1900s.

But Judge Brimmer, who was nominated by President George W. Bush to the bench in 2008, found that the governor had “failed to point to any evidence during the founding era that a total prohibition on the sale of firearms to minors was consistent with the right to bear arms …” and that he had failed to meet his burden to demonstrate that SB23-169 is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation.”

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners said the ruling was just the beginning of its campaign against recent Colorado gun laws.

“RMGO warned the bill sponsors this would quickly be struck down by a federal judge. Today, our crystal ball became a reality. But it doesn’t stop here. We won’t stop fighting until every single unconstitutional anti-gun law is struck down,” said executive director Taylor Rhodes in a written statement.

A spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis reinforced the governor’s rationale for the law.

"Since 1968, federal law has required Coloradans to be 21 years old to purchase a pistol, but a loophole allowed kids under age 21 to legally buy a rifle instead. This law closes that loophole and the Governor hopes that the courts agree with him that the law is fully consistent with our Second Amendment rights,” wrote Conor Cahill, arguing that unifying the age requirements would “support responsible gun ownership.”

The new state law makes it a misdemeanor for both parties involved in a sale to a person under 21. The law makes exceptions for active-duty military members and police officers. People between the ages of 18 and 20 can still possess and use guns, but can’t buy them, under the state law, and they also can receive guns as inheritances or gifts.

Colorado passed several other gun laws this year, such as expanding the state’s “red flag” law, enacting a three-day waiting period for purchases and making it easier to sue the firearm industry.

RMGO also is involved in legal challenges to the town of Superior’s ban on assault weapons and certain magazines; a state ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds; and the new waiting-period law.