Top state court upholds gun magazine limit spurred by Aurora theater shooting

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DENVER | The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday upheld the state’s ban on large capacity gun magazines, saying limiting magazines to 15 rounds does not violate people’s right to defend themselves under the state constitution.

The law was passed in 2013, a year after the Aurora theater shooting, in an effort to limit the number of deaths in mass shootings. While large capacity magazines were used in the Columbine and Aurora shootings, opponents of the law said it would also effectively ban a large majority of magazines that have removable base pads and can be converted to hold more ammunition.

However, the state Supreme Court ruled that the law only applied to magazines that are designed to be readily expanded to hold more than 15 rounds, not the approximately 90% of newer magazines that are made with removable base pads to allow for maintenance and clearing ammunition jams. Given that, the court said the law was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police power.

“Large capacity magazines like the 100-round drum that was used on the night my son Alex was murdered can cause devastating carnage and have absolutely no place on our streets,” said Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead and more than 70 wounded. Gunman James Holmes had purchased the 100-round magazine legally.

Attorney General Phil Weiser said the law will decrease the impacts of mass shootings while also honoring people’s right to bear arms to protect themselves.

“The large-capacity magazine law will decrease the deadly impacts of mass shootings by reducing the number of people who will be shot during a mass shooting incident, and it will save lives,” Weiser said in a statement. “Today’s ruling is a win for public safety and for the rule of law.”

Aurora Democratic lawmakers who helped push the ban through said more reform is still possible.

“Colorado Democrats stood with the people in 2013, took on the NRA to pass commonsense gun safety legislation, and won,” Morgan Carroll said in a statement. Carroll was an Aurora state senator and majority leader during the 2013 session. She’s now state Democratic Party chair person. “Today’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling that upholds the magazine limit we passed provides a sense of vindication for all the Coloradans who have taken action against gun violence and who have worked tirelessly to make our communities safer…I remain proud of my former colleagues who stood up to death threats, political threats, and extreme bullying tactics by the far-right RMGO to pass these bills, and today’s ruling simply confirms we were right to take the action that we did in 2013.”

Another prime sponsor of the legislation agreed.

“Your fight for safer communities and common sense solutions prevailed,” state Sen. Rhonda Fields said in a tweet after the announcement.  “(It) wasn’t easy blocking the gun lobby … y’all we can and yes we did.”

The legal challenge brought by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the National Association for Gun Rights also claimed Colorado had a heavy burden to prove that the magazine limit was needed because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Americans have a constitutional right to keep handguns and commonly used firearms in their homes for self-defense.

However, the state Supreme Court said the lawsuit only challenged the limit under the Colorado Constitution, not the U.S. Constitution, so it did not have to decide whether the limit was legal under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. The state Supreme Court analyzed the magazine limit under its standard for gun control regulations — its ruling in a challenge to an assault weapons ban passed in Denver in 1994.

“You might as well take the Colorado Constitution and burn it in a barrel,” Dudley Brown, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, said of the overall ruling. However, he said the court’s finding that expandable magazines are legal was a minor victory.

“Though we didn’t succeed in striking down the Magazine Ban, we did win on two very important points,” Brown said in a statement.

“First, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned an older ruling that would have nullified the Colorado Constitution’s right to keep and bear arms. Second, they protected virtually all removable base plate magazines, which could have criminalized hundreds of thousands of gun owners,” Brown said.

Brown said opponents felt like they had to try to repeal the ban under the state constitution and said they still had hope of doing that at the currently Democratic-controlled state Capitol.

“This fight has taken courage from hundreds of thousands of RMGO members — from swarming the State Capitol back when this fight started in 2013, to donating to our legal fund to keep this case alive, we could not have done it without our members’ support,” Brown said. “We need to flip a chamber. We aren’t giving up on the legislative fight.”