DENVER—Colorado gun owners may now hand ammunition magazines to their friends and family without fear of arrest, thanks to a last-minute agreement reached Wednesday.
The parties in the lawsuit over the state legislature’s newly enacted gun-control laws agreed to a settlement Wednesday that clarifies two sections of the House Bill 1224, which bans magazines holding more than 15 rounds.
The plaintiffs, including 55 of the state’s 62 county sheriffs, had sought a temporary injunction to suspend the measure, arguing that its unclear language would turn potentially thousands of law-abiding magazine owners into criminals, but instead worked with Attorney General John Suthers to revise a “technical guidance” issued shortly after the law was signed in March.
“The bottom line is, we all agreed to this, and we think the new guidance solves the problems with the two phrases we were concerned about,” said David Kopel, research director of the Independence Institute, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the sheriffs and other plaintiffs, including the Colorado Farm Bureau and disabled gun owners.
That doesn’t mean the fight over H.B. 1224 is over. The trial in the lawsuit, Cooke v. Hickenlooper, is scheduled to begin in December in U.S. District Court in Denver.
“The agreement is consistent with the reasonable, narrow reading of the statute that we have advocated and it now allows the court to expeditiously move to consideration of the Second Amendment implications of the statute,” said Suthers in a statement.
The guidance addresses two sections of the H.B. 1224, the first being the ban on magazines that are “designed to be readily convertible” to hold more than 15 rounds. Critics had argued that the ban would cover virtually any magazine, given that most have removable base plates.
Under the newly approved guidance, magazines with removable base plates are not prohibited unless they are permanently altered.
“These baseplates themselves do not enable the magazines to be expanded, and they serve functions aside from the expansion—notable, they allow the magazines to be cleaned and repaired,” says the guidance. “To actually convert them to higher capacity, one must purchase additional equipment or permanently alter their operation mechanically.”
The second section centers on the law’s requirement that magazine owners maintain “continuous possession” of magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. Such magazines are now banned from being sold or purchased in Colorado, but those who bought them before the law took effect July 1 may keep them.
Gun-rights advocates have described the law as impossible to enforce, and have made their point by staging protest events in which they hand magazines to each other in defiance of the law.
The guidance gives a different spin to the phrase “continuous possession.”
“’Continuous possession’ does not require a large-capacity magazine owner to maintain literally continuous physical possession of the magazine,” says the guidance. “’Continuous possession’ is only lost by a voluntary relinquishment of dominion and control.”
U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger did not issue a ruling on the matter during a hearing Wednesday, saying it was unnecessary because the parties had resolved the issues themselves.
Kopel said the agreement was reached late Tuesday in an exchange of emails between lawyers on both sides. The Attorney General’s office issued the additional guidance Wednesday.
Colorado House Democrats issued a statement Wednesday saying that the judge’s decision “deals a serious blow to the plaintiffs in the case.”
“We’ve been saying all along that the law is enforceable, and now the sheriffs and the Independence Institute are conceding that we are right,” said state Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), who sponsored H.B. 1224. “We can now go forward with the implementation of a law that, over time, will make our neighborhoods safer and take military-style magazines off our streets.”