Court upholds Colorado 15-shot magazine limit

A unanimous three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals is standing behind the state’s ban on magazines considered “large-capacity.”

In 2013, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a controversial bill into law capping the limit on detachable magazines in the state at 15 rounds in the wake of a mass shooting inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Challenged in the courts, the law has since been upheld by judges in both federal and state courts, the latter of which was affirmed by an appeals court last week.

Citing that the plaintiffs in the case had not presented evidence that anyone in Colorado has “ever fired even close to fifteen rounds in self-defense,” Judge David Richman said on behalf of the court in his 24-page ruling that limiting magazine size to 15 rounds of ammunition “does not unreasonably burden the right to self-defense,” and that the 2013 law is “a reasonable exercise of police power without sweeping constitutionally protected activities within their reach.”

The plaintiffs in the case, the pro-gun groups Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the National Association for Gun Rights, supported by the Second Amendment Foundation, argued the right to bear arms clause of the Colorado Constitution, written in 1876, was trampled by the magazine cap. They argued the protection prohibits the government from setting limits on the firepower available to Coloradans, citing for instance that magazine-fed Gatling guns were available and in circulation to civilians at the time the state constitution was adopted.

Richman, appointed by Democratic Governor Bill Ritter to the court in 2008, swatted that assertion away, saying for the court there was “no indication” that the state constitution “prohibits the government from setting reasonable limits on the firepower available to Coloradans. And there is no more reason today for Coloradans to possess magazines of more than 15 rounds than there was at the time that the right to keep and bear arms was written into the Colorado Constitution.”

In support of the state’s case to keep the law intact, the court cited the magazine cap does not ban grandfathered examples in circulation prior to the law taking effect and that there were also “millions” of magazines in sizes of 15 rounds or fewer commonly available.

Colorado’s magazine cap drew fire immediately after it was adopted as firearm accessory giant Magpul, then located in the state, pulled stumps for greener pastures in Wyoming and Texas. Subsequently, Republicans in the state Senate in both 2015 and 2016 passed repeals of the measure and have kept the pressure up in the chamber ever since to roll it back.

As for the plaintiffs in the case, Dudley Brown, executive director of RMGO, told Colorado Politics the group will appeal Thursday’s ruling, which could end up with the state supreme court.

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