Federal judge dismisses suit that aimed to overturn Colorado gun control laws

DENVER - A Federal judge has ruled in favor of Colorado's controversial new gun laws and against a lawsuit filed by many of the state's sheriffs, several organizations and businesses.

Federal Chief Judge Marcia Krieger ruled in favor of the defendant, the state of Colorado, in a ruling issued Thursday.

"In determining whether a law is constitutional, this decision does not determine whether either law is “good,” only whether it is constitutionally permissible," Kreiger wrote.

The sheriffs filed suit last year in an attempt to block laws passed in response to mass shootings at an Aurora movie theater and at a school in Connecticut. They argued that the laws requiring universal background checks for gun buyers and restricting the size of high-capacity magazines violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition against states denying individuals due process and equal protection under the law. They also argued that the laws violated the Americans with Disabilities act.

At trial, the arguments on behalf of the large group of individual plaintiffs were made by Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, former Colorado resident David Bayne and ongoing resident Dylan Harrell.

The judge found that Cooke's testimony did not have standing to challenge the magazine capacity statute and that his testimony consisted only of a poll of his deputies, Bayne was unlikely to be subject to the statutes in the future and Harrell's possession of existing high-capacity magazines would be protected by the law's grandfather clause.

On the background check statute, the judge again dismissed Bayne's testimony for the same reason. She wrote that Cooke did not provide any testimony with regard to his personal weapons, his intention to transfer them to others or his plans to acquire new ones.

About Harrell, she wrote that he testified he occasionally kept weapons from friends or neighbors for more than three days to install scopes. While the law exempts temporary transfers for up to 72 hours, Kreiger wrote that because he had the owner's permission to do maintenance he did not show a credible threat that would be prosecuted for not first obtaining a background check.

"Judicial review of laws for constitutional compliance focuses on only a small sliver of the issues that the legislature considers. A court does not act as a super-legislature to determine the wisdom or workability of legislation. Instead, it determines only whether legislation is constitutionally permissible. A law may be constitutional, but nevertheless foolish, ineffective, or cumbersome to enforce," Kreiger wrote in her ruling.

The judge also considered arguments from representatives of the businesses and organizations involved in bringing the suit, but ruled against them.

"Constitutionality is a binary determination: either a law is constitutional, or it is not."

 

--Analysis of magazine limits--

In her analysis of the case, Kreiger wrote a notable view on the high-capacity magazine limit. While the lawsuit argued the law violated the right to bear arms, the judge said "it does not directly regulate firearms at all."

She wrote that magazines are "nothing more than a container that holds multiple rounds of ammunition."

But because the law does affect the use of firearms that are common and widespread -- specifically semi-automatic weapons -- she did find it puts a burden on the right protected by the second amendment. However on a subsequent level of her analysis, Kreiger wrote that the law's impact on a persons' ability to have guns is not severely affected.

"This statute does not ban any firearm nor does it render any firearm useless," she wrote.

She went on to recap the testimonies about instances and methods of firearm use in self-defense. She also recapped testimony about how reloading weapons or jammed weapons can provide pauses that could allow law enforcement to take action against a shooter or allow victims time to move.

Kreiger summarized, "It is clear from the legislative history that the General Assembly adopted the 15-round restriction in the effort to balance the ability of individuals to lawfully use semiautomatic weapons in self-defense, while limiting the capability of unlawful shooters to fire repeatedly."

Based on her analysis, she found that the magazine limits were permissible under the second amendment.

 

--Sheriffs vow to appeal--

"Today was only the first round of the case, not the last," Sheriff Cooke said in a press conference a few hours after the ruling was released.

Cooke, accompanied by other sheriffs and a pro bono attorney, said they believed the judge applied law and precedents incorrectly. They vowed to appeal the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, the Supreme Court of the United States.

"We will continue the fight and look forward to presenting our case to the higher court," Cooke said.

In his speech, Cooke also referenced Gov. John Hickenlooper's recent statements at County Sheriffs of Colorado conference in Aspen and said he continues to believe the laws are unenforceable.

 

Attorney General John Suthers' response:

Today, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia S. Krieger has issued an order in the case known as Colorado Outfitters Association et al v. Hickenlooper, finding that gun laws passed by the Colorado General Assembly in 2013 are constitutional. Judge Krieger found that the ban on “large capacity magazines” exceeding 15 rounds and expanding mandatory background checks to recipients of firearms in some private transfers does not violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In response to today’s ruling, Attorney General John Suthers issued the following statement.

“Like Judge Krieger, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office has never asserted that the laws in question are good, wise or sound policy. As it does in all cases, the AG’s Office has fulfilled its responsibility to defend the constitutionality of the Colorado law in question.

The Attorney General’s Office fully expects the case to be appealed and looks forward to final resolution of the issues as soon as possible.”

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