Updated: Sheriffs' Lawsuit to Overturn Colorado's New Gun Laws heads to Court

Jul 10, 2013

Larry Emery manages Basalt Firearms in downtown Basalt. He's seeing impacts from the state's new gun laws.
Larry Emery manages Basalt Firearms in downtown Basalt. He's seeing impacts from the state's new gun laws.
Credit Marci Krivonen

The lawsuit 55 Colorado sheriffs filed to overturn two new gun laws goes in front of a judge today. The laws went into effect July first. Now, an attorney representing the sheriffs will ask that parts of the law that limits gun magazines be put on hold. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

The sheriffs and other plaintiffs in the case, including one retired police officer, want the new laws completely struck from the books. One law limits gun magazines to 15 rounds. The other mandates background checks for all gun transfers.

On Wednesday, a judge will decide whether to temporarily stop enforcement of two parts of the magazine law. David Kopel with the Independence Institute, is attorney for the sheriffs. He says the requirements are unconstitutional.

"The part of the magazine ban that outlaws magazines that are supposedly designed to be readily converted, to hold more than 15 rounds and then the requirement that grandfathered owners of magazines, besides actually owning the magazine on July 1st, must maintain continuous possession forever thereafter," he says.

A trial that's not yet scheduled would examine both the magazine mandate and the background check law. State lawmakers and Governor Hickenlooper approved the laws following tragedies in Aurora and Newtown, Connecticut.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario is a plaintiff in the case. He says both laws are too confusing to enforce and they violate the second amendment.

"These laws are infringing on me as a law abiding citizen, you as a law abiding citizen, to freely own guns according to our constitution. I don’t believe such issues like background checks are going to weed out dangerous people because evil people are evil people, they’re not going to abide by the law," Vallario says.

Sheriff Joe Disalvo in Pitkin County is one of seven sheriffs staying out of the lawsuit. He says his decision to steer clear is what he thinks the community would want.

"I think our community is an intelligent group that wants reasonable gun control measures in effect and I spoke for myself and my community, when I said I wasn’t going to join the lawsuit to sue the governor and the state of Colorado," he says.

The laws have been in place now for a week and a half and gun shops are likely feeling the biggest impact. Larry Emery manages Basalt Firearms a small shop on the edge of downtown.

"Many of the handguns that we have in the case here, you see this is marked in yellow, and that is to remind us that we may not sell that gun to someone in the state of Colorado because it has a 17 round magazine rather than a 15," he says as he points to a row of guns in a glass case.

To comply with the law, Emery also had remove 30-round magazines from the semi-automatic rifles displayed on the shop’s walls. Because the laws are so new, he says it’s hard to tell whether they’ve affected his bottom line.

"Have I lost sales? I don’t know. I can tell you it’s been much quieter since July 1st in terms of traffic in the store than it was prior to that time."

Regardless, he says one outcome of the new laws is frustration. Frustration over what is allowed and what is not.

"I’ve not been able to get clarification of, may I have that on display, may I not have that on display? I do know that I can’t sell it and deliver it to someone in the state of Colorado, so we’re definitely not selling those products that have been banned at this point in time," he says.

Emery says he’s also unsuccessfully sought advice from the State on what to do with orders that are just arriving and paid in full but are also now illegal.

As a lifelong hunter and target shooter, he says more extensive background checks is a step in the right direction. But, Emery believes the two laws won’t stop people from committing heinous crimes.

Update (7/10/13, 11 am)

A judge has decided there's no need for a preliminary injunction blocking parts of Colorado's new magazine limit law. The Denver Post reports, both sides in the lawsuit agreed that Attorney General John Suthers would redraft technical guidance on key provisions of the law. Chief U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger said the agreement meant there's no need to issue an injunction.

The sheriffs were aiming to temporarily stop enforcement of parts of the magazine law. They say both the law to limit magazines to 15 rounds and the mandate requiring background checks for all gun transfers violate the Second Amendment.