DENVER — A federal judge upheld Colorado gun restrictions that were enacted in response to 2012 mass shootings, saying Thursday that limiting the size of ammunition magazines and expanding background checks on firearm purchases are constitutional acts.
But gun-rights advocates who sued the state to overturn the laws called the ruling only the first round and said they planned to appeal.
In a 50-page decision, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger said both laws don’t infringe on individuals’ right to bear arms. The judge further said that limiting magazine sizes doesn’t obstruct individuals’ ability to protect themselves, and that the expansion of background checks to include firearms sold online and between private parties “is no more severe” than the requirements already in place for commercial sales before the new law.
Gun rights advocates and county sheriffs filed the lawsuit to overturn the laws, which Democrats passed last year without Republican support.
Opponents of the laws criticized them as unenforceable. Krieger dismissed that argument, saying it didn’t apply to whether the laws were unconstitutional.
“A court does not act as a super-legislature to determine the wisdom or workability of the legislation,” Krieger said. “Instead, it determines only whether legislation is constitutionally permissible. A law may be constitutional, but nevertheless foolish, ineffective, or cumbersome to enforce.”
Colorado lawmakers passed the restrictions in reaction to the shooting rampage at a suburban Denver movie theater, where 12 people were killed and dozens more were wounded, and the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The gun control debate was one of the most emotionally charged of the 2013 legislative session, with lengthy debates and national attention. Vice President Joe Biden called Colorado Democrats and urged them to approve the legislation.
Two Democratic state senators who voted for the laws were recalled from office. A third Democratic lawmaker resigned while a recall effort was ongoing.
Former state Sen. John Morse, one of the recalled lawmakers, welcomed the ruling.
“You can’t have a 100-round magazine and walk into a movie theater and start killing people. That’s not what the Second Amendment is about,” Morse said.
Even before the ruling, Morse said he remained unwavering in his support for the laws even if they cost him his seat.
“I know when we were doing it that it was the right thing to do. There’s no question,” he said.
The plaintiffs — which include county sheriffs and several gun-rights groups — said they intend to take their case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I came out right away and say that these laws are unenforceable so therefore I won’t enforce them,” said Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, who is running for state Senate in November. “And the judge’s ruling has done nothing to change my opinion about that.”
Regarding the law restricting magazine sizes to 15 rounds, Krieger said there was no evidence presented to show that a person’s ability “to defend him or herself is seriously diminished if magazines are limited.”
Krieger said “evidence shows that large-capacity magazines are frequently used in gun violence and mass shootings, and that often a shooter will shoot continuously until a weapon jams or the shooter runs out of ammunition.”
She went on to say that the magazine limits lawmakers adopted were an “effort to balance the ability of individuals to lawfully use semi-automatic weapons in self-defense, while limiting the capability of unlawful shooters to fire repeatedly.”
The plaintiffs argued that the background check expansion would make it difficult for people to simply loan a firearm to a friend or neighbor, or that some people would put themselves at danger of prosecution for giving a gun to a friend for storage.
Krieger said individuals have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, but added that “it is not at all clear that the Second Amendment prevents the government from restricting the ability of persons to acquire firearms via temporary loans from others.”