DENVER — Colorado sheriffs vowed to appeal Thursday’s ruling by a federal judge upholding the constitutionality of the state’s 2013 gun-control laws limiting ammunition-magazine capacity to 15 rounds and mandating background checks for all gun purchases.
Weld County Sheriff John Cooke said at a press conference that while the sheriffs respect the judge’s decision, “we believe that it is plainly wrong on the law and on the facts.”
“We will take this case to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and if necessary, to the United States Supreme Court,” said Cooke.
Cooke spoke on behalf of the 55 sheriffs who filed the lawsuit last year after Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bills into law in March. The Democrat-controlled state legislature passed the hotly disputed measures with no Republican votes.
Former Senate President John Morse, who was recalled in September as part of a backlash against the gun-control bills, applauded the court’s decision.
“Now that a judge has settled this law I hope we can all focus on providing Colorado with the #gunsafety we sought by passing them,” said Morse on Twitter.
Gun-rights advocates argued that the laws violated their 2nd Amendment rights, but U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger ruled that the Colorado laws weren’t as restrictive as the law banning handguns that was deemed unconstitutional in the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller.
“As profound as Heller is, it does not stand for the proposition that there can be no permissible regulation of firearms or their use,” said Krieger in her 50-page opinion.
On the magazine limit, she said, “[T]his statute does not prevent the people of Colorado from possessing semiautomatic weapons for self-defense, or from using those weapons as they are designed to function. The only limitation imposed is how frequently they must reload their weapons.”
Opponents have argued that the magazine law is all but impossible to enforce, given that it allows those who owned magazines with more than 15 round before the law took effect July 1 to keep them, but Krieger said it wasn’t the court’s role to opine on the wisdom of the law.
“A court does not act as a super-legislature to determine the wisdom or workability of legislation,” said Krieger. “Instead, it determines only whether legislation is constitutionally permissible. A law may be constitutional, but nevertheless foolish, ineffective, or cumbersome to enforce.”
Attorney General John Suthers, whose office defended the 2013 gun-control laws, echoed that sentiment.
“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,” said Suthers said in a statement.
Hickenlooper stunned those on both sides of the debate two weeks ago by trying to distance himself from the gun-control laws in a meeting with sheriffs, which was filmed by Revealing Politics.
“Two weeks ago, John Hickenlooper truthfully told the sheriffs ‘we really screwed up’ the background check bill. He was right,” said Cooke.
He said the plaintiffs presented evidence at trial showing that the number of background checks has actually declined in Colorado, even though the state legislature anticipated an additional 200,000 such checks after the law took effect.
“The district court refused to consider this evidence, and we believe that refusal was wrong as a matter of law,” said Cooke.
While 55 sheriffs filed the lawsuit, along with outfitters, gun shops, firearms owners and shooting ranges, the judge ruled that the sheriffs could not sue in their official capacity. As a result, 10 sheriffs joined the suit as individuals.
“As sheriffs, every day we fight to protect the safety and the rights of the law-abiding citizens of Colorado. We will continue the fight, and we look forward to presenting our case to the higher court,” said Cooke.