Appeals court upholds temporary block on Colorado gun law, rules in favor of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Mike Cummings with the Centennial Gun Club points out features on a long gun to customer Jim Collier of Centennial, Colorado on Wednesday, Nov 2. 2016.

Updated 4:43 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023

Colorado’s age limit for buying rifles will not increase to 21 anytime soon. A new law to raise the age limit was blocked — again — by federal judges on Tuesday.  

The decision from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals means that the 21-plus gun law will remain on hold as the larger court battle continues, perhaps for a year or longer.  

A district court judge issued an injunction blocking the law in August, the same day it was supposed to take effect

Gov. Jared Polis’s office filed an emergency motion, asking the appeals court to temporarily allow the 21-to-purchase limit to go into effect while the state appealed that decision. But on Tuesday, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judges Carolyn McHugh and Nancy Moritz denied that request.

Gun rights advocates argue the higher age limit is unconstitutional, especially under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Bruen ruling

This is only the latest development in the ongoing challenge to Colorado’s new gun law.

“Normally, these things are fairly slow moving,” said Taylor Rhodes, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the gun rights advocacy group behind the lawsuit.

“We're going to file a motion to essentially turn the preliminary injunction into a permanent injunction so we don't have to go to trial,” he said. “If not, we suspect a trial will be in the next year.”

Both of the judges who made the latest ruling were appointed by Democratic presidents.

In response to the appeals court’s action, Polis continued to defend the new law, pointing out that Colorado has banned people under 21 from buying pistols since 1968.

“[A] loophole allows kids under age 21 to legally buy a rifle instead. This new law approved by the legislature closes that loophole and Governor Polis hopes that the courts agree with him that the law is fully consistent with the Second Amendment and reduces confusion,” wrote spokesman Conor Cahill in an email.

RMGO is also 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.

The lawsuits are the “tip of the spear” of conservative efforts to block gun reform laws nationwide, Rhodes said. A conservative majority on the Supreme Court has made it far more difficult for the states to defend their gun reforms in court.

Colorado voters have seemed to support the gun reforms, electing Democrats with gun-reform messages to strong majorities in recent years. Losing elections, Second Amendment advocates have turned to the courts instead, and so far succeeded.

“I think this is the strategy until we can change the demographics of the legislature,” Rhodes said.

This is a developing story will be updated.