DENVER — Colorado’s new gun restrictions went on trial Monday as Second Amendment advocates seek to overturn the laws on grounds that they violate constitutional rights to keep and bear arms.
An attorney for the state defended the ammunition magazine limits and expanded background checks, saying the measures were a suitable response to high-profile shooting rampages.
In his opening statement, Deputy Attorney General Matthew Grove noted Colorado’s tortured history with mass shootings, from the Columbine High School attack in 1999 to the Aurora movie theater massacre in 2012. He also mentioned the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
Responding to such events last year, “Colorado’s elected representatives made a policy decision to pass two pieces of legislation that appropriately balances the state public’s safety concerns with the respect of the Second Amendment rights of citizens,” Grove said.
Attorney Richard Westfall, representing gun rights advocates, countered by saying the laws “were passed with almost no evidence or data” that they would make people safer, and he criticized lawmakers as trying “to legislate for the sake of legislating in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting.”
The arguments in Denver federal court kicked off a two-week trial on an issue that’s been among Colorado’s most politically contentious in recent memory.
The laws in question took effect July 1, limiting the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and expanding background checks to firearm sales online and between private sellers.
The laws passed last year without Republican support, and two Democrats who favored the gun restrictions were booted from office in September — the first state lawmakers in Colorado ever to lose their seats via recall.
Republicans this year tried unsuccessfully to repeal the laws, but ruling Democrats rejected their proposals.
Relatives of mass shooting victims outnumbered gun rights supporters at the state Capitol this year in testifying in favor of the laws. Last year, when lawmakers were considering the bills, gun rights advocates packed the Capitol and drove for hours around the building, honking their car horns as the bills were heard. A small plane flew overhead with a banner in opposition of the bills.
Westfall argued the expansion of background checks is unenforceable and unwieldy, putting a burden on citizens and potentially criminalizing some loans. He said the law limiting magazine sizes “is a symbolic gesture that does not improve public safety.”
Grove disagreed, saying the time it takes gunman to reload with smaller magazines allows for victims to escape or disarm the gunman. He also argued that people don’t need larger magazines for the purposes of self-defense.
“Civilians have virtually never, if ever at all, required more than 15 rounds to effectively defend themselves,” he said.
The lawsuit was filed in May by most of Colorado’s sheriffs and gun rights groups. In November, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger, who is presiding over the case, ruled that the sheriffs could not sue the state in their official capacities as a group. However, she said the sheriffs could continue on the lawsuit in their individual capacities. Some of the sheriffs have remained as plaintiffs.