Colorado’s ban on the sale or transfer of magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammo is constitutional, the state Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
The challenge to the law (HB 1224) came from the Loveland-based Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO). The pro-gun group argued that it violated one’s right to keep and bear arms only under Colorado’s constitution.
RMGO did not ask the court to evaluate the mag prohibition under the Second Amendment in our federal constitution.
“We conclude today that the legislation passes state constitutional muster,” the opinion says. “Because Plaintiffs do not challenge HB 1224 under the Second Amendment, we do not address whether the legislation runs afoul of the federal constitution.”
Dudley Brown, RMGO’s executive director, explained why they took this limiting approach back in 2013 when the law was passed and the suit was filed.
“The reason we didn’t file it in federal court is there was already a federal court lawsuit in 2013,” explained Brown. “The U.S. Supreme Court was a very different makeup in 2013, and no one had a crystal ball to know what it would look like seven years later, so why would we have pushed it on that front?”
That other mag ban challenge never made it before the high court. Brown is now saying that if he could’ve done things differently, with the benefit of hindsight, he would’ve.
“In retrospect, would I have run two cases? Yeah. I don’t know how we would have paid for it,” said Brown, who told local media that the group spent $210,000 on the case. “Only have so much time, treasure and talents.”
As to why the ban passes “muster” on the state level, the court in a unanimous 7-0 ruling found that “HB 1224 is a reasonable exercise of the police power that has neither the purpose nor effect of nullifying the right to bear arms in self-defense encompassed by article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution.”
The judges went on to say that because RMGO did not seek dual constitutional claims they cannot “now insist that federal constitutional law controls the analysis of their case.” In short, the ruling is final.
RMGO said in a press release that it’s not all bad news for gun owners.
“Though we didn’t succeed in striking down the Magazine Ban, we did win on two very important points,” said Brown.
“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 would have criminalized hundreds of thousands of gun owners,” he continued.
Looking ahead, Colorado gun owners are left with at least two big questions.
Will law enforcement, which had been quite lax about enforcing the ban, start cracking down on gun owners with 15-plus round magazines?
Obviously, that’s difficult to predict because the law had a grandfather clause to protect those who possessed mags before the law took effect on July 1, 2013. Unless police can track the time of sale or transfer, it’d be almost impossible to differentiate between a pre-ban or post-ban mag.
Second, what happens to the widespread availability of kits that allow one to assemble a magazine of a certain round count at home?
Maybe nothing, at least for now. The state Supreme Court did not rule on this particular point, just as to whether the ban itself was constitutional under Colorado law.