Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Three Gun Control Bills Signed in Colorado

DENVER (CN) - The morning after the state's prison chief was shot to death in his own house, Colorado's governor signed three gun-control bills into law, including a ban on sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed the bills Wednesday in a largely partisan effort to stem gun violence in a state that suffered the mass murders at Columbine High School and the Aurora movie theater.

Democrats control both houses of the Colorado Legislature, and the governor's office.

Hickenlooper signed the bills the day after the director of Colorado's state prisons was shot to death in the doorway of his house.

Department of Corrections Chief Tom Clements was killed by an unidentified assailant Tuesday night. A motive for the murder, if any, was not known.

Many groups and people, including law enforcement officials, vowed to fight or ignore the new laws.

Some Colorado sheriffs said they would not enforce them.

Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, in Greeley, told his local newspaper that he "wouldn't bother" to enforce the laws, calling them "feel-good, knee-jerk reactions."

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, in Colorado Springs, said he would not enforce the laws, which he called "extortion" by Democrats, according to ABC News.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, in Fort Collins, said he would not enforce any federal gun control measures he considers unconstitutional.

House Bill 13-1224 bans the sale, transfer and possession of magazines that contain more than 15 rounds, or 28 inches of shotgun shells.

People who own large-capacity magazines can continue to possess them legally.

The law goes into effect on July 1.

Hickenlooper also signed House Bill 13-1229 , which requires gun buyers to submit to a background check, and House Bill 13-1228 , which requires the purchaser to pay for the background check.

The signing came 8 months after a gunman killed 12 people and wounded dozens at a movie theater in Aurora. James Holmes is believed to have used an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine, among other weapons, to attack the crowd at a midnight premier of Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."

According to court documents one victim, Matthew McQuinn, was shot nine times in the attack.

Colorado Senate President John Morse said in a statement that the massacres in Aurora and Newtown, Conn. had compelled the Legislature to take action.

"This legislative session became about guns. It was not planned that way," Morse said. "It was forced upon us by two horrific massacres in one year, one in our own back yard. So in the wake of these massacres and everyday gun violence, today three gun safety bills were signed into law.

"Let's be clear, zero of these laws take guns from law-abiding citizens. Instead, these are laws that the majority of Coloradans want. They are reasonable. As leaders, we have to make tough decisions. We know that some criminals will find ways around these laws, but that doesn't mean we should surrender to them. We must try to save lives."

State Sen. Mary Hodge, co-sponsor of the magazine limit bill, said: "The fact is large-capacity magazines are what were used in the massacres that rocked our nation. They helped the shooters spray crowds of people, destroying life as we know it. These large-magazines aren't welcome [in] our Colorado communities."

Not surprisingly, many groups vowed to fight the laws.

The president of the Independence Institute, a self-described "free market" think tank based in Colorado, claimed that the "continuous possession" clause of the magazine ban meant that a person could be arrested for simply handing a large-capacity magazine to another person.

Hickenlooper denied that. He said ban would be "applied narrowly."

"We ... have heard concerns about the requirement in the law that a person who owns a large-capacity magazine prior to the law's enactment may legally possess that magazine only as long as he or she 'maintains continuous possession' of it," Hickenlooper said in a statement.

"We do not believe a reasonable interpretation of the law means that a person must maintain continuous 'physical' possession of these items. Responsible maintenance and handling of magazines obviously contemplates that gun owners may allow others to physically hold and handle them under appropriate circumstances. We are confident that law enforcement and the courts will interpret the statute so as to effectuate the lawful use and care of these devices."

Hickenlooper continued: "In considering the language of HB13-1224, we have consulted with the Office of the Attorney General and we concur with its advice that the large-capacity magazine ban should be construed narrowly to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Second Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. We have signed HB13-1224 into law based on the understanding that it will be interpreted and applied narrowly and consistently with these important constitutional provisions."

Some people took more extreme measures.

Police arrested one man who allegedly threatened to kill state Rep. Rhonda Fields, a co-sponsor of two of the bills. Racist insults and taunts were redacted from the arrest warrant , but still visible.

Fields, a Democrat from Arapahoe County, where the Aurora massacre took place, said that many of her colleagues received similar "personal, violent" threats for backing the legislation.

Also Wednesday, Hickenlooper ordered the U.S. flag flown at half staff in public buildings to commemorate the murder of the prison chief.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.