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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Gun Groups Not Yet|Out of Legal Ammo

DENVER (CN) - Three pro-gun organizations are celebrating the Colorado Court of Appeals' partial reversal of the dismissal of their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Colorado gun law.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners et al. sued Gov. John Hickenlooper in September 2013, challenging two House bills he supported.

The bills were a reaction to public pressure after the "Batman" movie massacre of July 2012, in which James Holmes used a 100-round magazine to kill 12 moviegoers and wound 70 in Aurora.

Both bills took effect on July 1, 2013, almost a year after the shooting. House Bill 13-1229 requires a gun owner who wishes to sell a firearm to get a background check for the buyer from a licensed gun dealer.

House Bill 13-1224 bans the purchase and sale of guns that can hold or be converted to hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition. H.B. 1224 has a grandfather provision that allows large-magazine guns bought on or before July 1, 2013, if they have been in the owner's continuous possession.

Denver County Judge John Madden dismissed the original lawsuit, finding the plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief.

But on Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals partially reversed, in a 49-page ruling that found cause for further proceedings due to plaintiffs' claim that H.B. 1224 might violate the Colorado Constitution.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge John Dailey addressed plaintiffs' concerns that the logic behind the specific limitations of the ammunition bill was unreasonable, and might be difficult to enforce.

"The allegations in the complaint here ... deserve testing through the crucible of fact finding," Dailey wrote. "As an example, the allegation that virtually any magazine violates H.B. 13-1224 deserves a hearing."

The plaintiffs claimed they had not been given sufficient evidence to justify the 15-round ammunition cutoff, and that that violated Article II, Section 13 of the state constitution, which "requires a factual inquiry into the reasonableness of the limits."

"For example, was the fifteen-round limit based upon any reasonable safety concern or was it an arbitrary number?" Dailey wrote. "Was the continuous possession requirement based on any reasonable safety concern? Plaintiffs are entitled to present evidence of the basis for their claim."

Judge Karen Ashby concurred.

Judge Dennis Graham dissented in part, asking the lower court to revisit how and to what extent H.B. 1224 infringes upon an individual's "fundamental" right to bear arms.

"Historically, Colorado has not restricted the possession of firearms and the use of firearms that H.B. 13-1224 addresses. Jurisprudence interpreting and applying the Second Amendment should therefore be helpful in applying article II, section 13," Graham wrote in dissent.

"I would therefore remand with directions to determine whether the prohibitions imposed by H.B. 13-1224 conflict with the text, history, and tradition of firearm regulation under article II, section 13. If they do, the law cannot stand."

The appeals court agreed that the plaintiffs' challenge of H.B. 1229 was unfounded, as it merely requires individual gun owners to abide by the same laws licensed gun stores have had to follow for years.

"[House Bill] 1229 simply carves out reasonable regulation that provides a mechanism for determining whether sales of firearms qualify under the national instant criminal background check system," the opinion states.

"Colorado and federal law bar certain individuals from possessing firearms based on a history of violence, criminal prosecution, or mental condition. There is no fundamental right to possess a firearm if an individual falls within one of the barred categories."

The ruling came one day after the 10th Circuit ruled in a separate case that the same two gun laws do not significantly restrict the rights of Colorado gun owners.

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