Colorado sheriffs sue the state over new gun control laws

Greg Campbell Contributor
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A consortium of plaintiffs led by 54 of Colorado’s 62 elected county sheriffs filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state Friday in an effort to overturn two new gun control bills that are set to go into effect on July 1.

The plaintiffs have in their sights one law that effectively bans all firearm magazines, and one that requires a background check for every gun transfer when the gun will be in the possession of someone other than the owner for more than 72 hours.

“On one hand, I’m proud to be part of this historic case,” said Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, who spoke on behalf of 18 sheriffs who attended a press conference announcing the suit.

“But on the other hand, it saddens me that we have to be here at all,” he added. “It should never have gotten to this point in the first place.”

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the laws are not only unconstitutional, but also confusing and unenforceable.

For example, the ban on magazines was discussed by its Democratic sponsors as applying only to those that hold more than 15 rounds, in response to mass-shooting incidents in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

But the law also outlaws any magazine that can be easily converted to hold more than 15 rounds, which applies to practically all magazines with a removable base plate that can be replaced with an after-market extender.

After July 1, the owners of such magazines cannot sell them, loan them or give them away. In effect, it means that even if they give their weapon to someone else for safekeeping — or, in the case of one wheelchair-bound plaintiff who spoke Friday, to hold momentarily as he gets in and out of his chair — they will be breaking the law.

The background-check requirement is also unduly burdensome, the sheriffs say. Maketa gave as an example a neighbor of his who, under the new law, would have to perform a background check on his fiancé if he left his firearm with her when he deploys with the military.

Maketa said he has better things to do than check up on people like his neighbor.

“It’s not a matter of whether I choose to enforce it or not. It’s unenforceable,” he said.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said the sentiments held by the sheriffs are shared by other law enforcement officers like police and state troopers, who, by virtue of the fact that they are employees rather than elected officials, can’t speak up about their opposition to the laws.

The suit, filed in federal court, claims the new laws violate the Second and Fourteenth amendments as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act, since it criminalizes people who help disabled shooters with their weapons if they’re fitted with magazines.

David Kopel, the plaintiffs’ attorney and the Second Amendment project director of the libertarian Independence Institute, where the press conference was held, said he is considering filing a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the laws from going into effect.

Joining the sheriffs in the suit are disabled shooters, a group called Women for Concealed Carry and the Colorado Farm Bureau, which is representing farmers and rural interests.

Cooke said that the eight sheriffs who didn’t join the suit may be aligned ideologically with those who have, but didn’t sign on for “political reasons,” meaning they represent heavily Democratic jurisdictions like Boulder and Denver, two counties whose sheriffs are absent from the plaintiffs list.

After the press conference, Cooke said many sheriffs tried to explain what they saw as problems with the bills to their sponsors while they were being debated at the legislature, but that Democratic lawmakers “played politics” that prevented many of them from testifying.

For example, he said committee members limited testimony on the bills to only one sheriff when several were present to oppose them.

But he said it probably wouldn’t have mattered if everyone had been allowed to speak.

“I believe Jesus Christ himself could have come down, testified against those bills and they would have passed,” he said. “Their minds were made up.”

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