DENVER - An attorney representing gun-rights groups and 54 Colorado sheriffs in a federal lawsuit to overturn state gun-control laws said lawmakers acted in an emotional response to mass shootings at an Aurora movie theater and a Connecticut school.
The lawsuit seeks to overturn legislation signed last year by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. The laws, which took effect July 1, limit the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and expand background checks to online firearm sales and private sellers.
Supporters say the laws are necessary to improve public safety, but lawsuit backers argue the laws violate the Second Amendment.
"They wanted to legislate for the sake of legislating in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting. Objections were rushed or pushed aside," plaintiffs' attorney Richard Westfall said during opening statements in Denver federal court.
Westfall said the two state laws targeted in the lawsuit passed with no evidence or data that the legislation would accomplish the goal of reducing gun violence.
Westfall also argued that the law banning high-capacity ammunition magazines jeopardizes people using guns for self-defense.
"Forcing someone to re-load…especially someone with a disability, denies that person a firearm when that person needs it most," said Westfall.
The plaintiffs include Outdoor Buddies Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides hunting and shooting activities to disabled individuals and disadvantaged youths.
Deputy State Attorney General Matthew Grove countered that the laws make it harder for prohibited people to get guns, reduce gun trafficking, and will likely lead to a reduction in firearm homicide rates in Colorado.
He noted that a gunman used an assault rifle when he killed 12 people and injured 70 others at the Aurora Century 16 movie theater in July 2012. Later that year, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, a gunman used a semi-automatic rifle with 30-round clips to kill 20 children and six school officials.
Grove said limiting the number of bullets a magazine holds a forces gunman bent on violence to reload and this can save lives.
During opening statements, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger told attorneys for both sides to stick to the evidence and to not present argument.
The first witness, Bob Hewson, executive director of Colorado Youth Outdoors, said the law regulating private gun transactions has created legal obstacles and confusion for his nonprofit group that introduces many youngsters to their first shooting experience.
"I'm not so sure that the gun dealer can actually make that (gun) transfer to me knowing that ….our group would have to go through a background check," Hewson said. "Yes, it complicates our matters. I'm not sure where that [legal] boundary is." He added that he's had to spend a lot of time talking with law enforce officials, attorneys and insurance providers.