Colorado gun battle has moved to court
The 54 county sheriffs from Colorado who have challenged two pieces of gun-control legislation passed by Democrats in the state Legislature this year — and the many Coloradans who support the sheriffs — lost their first battle in federal court Wednesday. But it was a relatively minor skirmish in what promises to be a long legal battle.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger rejected a request from the sheriffs to issue an injunction to prevent a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines from being enforced. That ban officially took effect July 1.
The sheriffs argued that the law is too vague to implement, particularly with respect to the definition of a high-capacity magazine and how existing magazines may be grandfathered in if they have been in “continuous possession” of the owner.
However, Krieger noted that Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and his staff have agreed to redraft technical guidance on these and other key provisions of the law, so there was no need for the injunction.
The much larger question on both the ban on high-capacity magazines and another state law requiring background checks for online and private gun sales is whether they violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And, no matter how a federal court in Denver ultimately rules on that issue, it is all but guaranteed that the cases will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
As we have said before, the 54 sheriffs, including Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey, have a right and even a responsibility to mount a legal challenge to legislation which they must enforce, but which they believe is constitutionally suspect.
We’re not as convinced as the sheriffs that either the ban on high-capacity magazines or the requirement for background checks on private gun purchases is unconstitutional. However, we and many others question whether the bills passed in Colorado — particularly the ban on high-capacity magazines — will have any substantial effect in preventing future mass-murder attacks, such as those that occurred at an Aurora theater last summer and a Newtown, Conn., school in December.
And that could be a critical question as this legal gun battle moves forward.
As a column on these pages noted a few weeks ago, federal judges and ultimately the Supreme Court will have several levels of legal scrutiny to consider as they attempt to determine whether the laws are constitutional. If they choose the highest level, strict scrutiny, then Colorado must demonstrate that the laws are necessary to achieve a compelling state interest — in this case, preventing mass murder. The state must also show the laws are narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.
Exactly how the court will ultimately rule is impossible to predict. There is much legal exchange still to come. But now the courts, not lawmakers or members of the public, will determine what’s consitutional. And that’s as it should be.