August 26, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statutes Limiting Sale, Transfer, and Possession of Large-Capacity Magazines Facially Constitutional

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Hickenlooper on Thursday, October 18, 2018.

Constitutional Law—Large-Capacity Magazines—Colorado Constitution—Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

In the wake of the mass shootings at Columbine High School and the Aurora movie theatre, the Colorado General Assembly passed House Bills 13-1224 (HB 1224), limiting large-capacity magazines (LCMs) for firearms, and 13-1229 (HB 1229), expanding mandatory background checks for firearm sales and transfers. HB 1224 added C.R.S.§§ 18-12-301, -302, and -303 (collectively, the statutes), which generally define an LCM as a magazine able to hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition and provide (with exceptions) criminal penalties for their sale, possession, and transfer after July 1, 2013.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the National Association for Gun Rights, Inc., and Sternberg (collectively, plaintiffs) challenged the facial constitutionality of both bills under Colo. Const. art. II, § 13, which affords individuals the right to keep and bear arms. The district court granted the Governor’s C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. On the first appeal, a court of appeals division affirmed with respect to HB 1229, but remanded the case because the district court had erred in dismissing the HB 1224 claim. After a bench trial, the district court found that the statutes were constitutional.

On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the district court erred in finding the statutes constitutional. They argued that the prospective LCM ban should be subject to a heightened standard of review. The Colorado Supreme Court established the “reasonable exercise test” as the standard governing review of a claimed violation of the Colorado right to bear arms.

Plaintiffs also contended that the statutes should be interpreted as unconstitutionally broad because they ban “an overwhelming majority of magazines.” The court applied the reasonable exercise test and determined that the statutes are constitutional as a reasonable exercise of the state’s police power to protect the public’s health and safety because they (1) reasonably further a legitimate governmental interest in reducing mass shooting deaths; (2) are reasonably related to the legislative purpose of reducing mass shooting deaths; and (3) do not sweep constitutionally protected activities within their reach.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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