Many of Colorado's elected sheriffs are refusing to enforce new gun laws passed in the state, including universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines that carry more than 15 rounds.
Despite this month's ruling from U.S. District Judge Marcia Kreiger saying that the sheriffs don't have legal standing to challenge the laws in their official capacity, Weld County Sheriff John Cooke told The New York Times over the weekend that he and other sheriffs are refusing to enforce the new laws, calling them too vague and a violation of the Second Amendment.
Other sheriffs told the newspaper that enforcement of the new gun laws will be "a very low priority."
Fifty-five of Colorado's 62 elected sheriffs joined the lawsuit to overturn the new gun laws, which they call unconstitutional.
This isn't the first time Cooke has voiced his doubts about the new laws. Back in March, he called them "unenforceable" and that they "give a false sense of security," according to the Greeley Tribune. Cooke said that the Democratic lawmakers who passed the laws this year in Colorado are "uninformed" and are passing "knee-jerk reaction" laws in reaction to the Aurora theater shooting in Colorado and the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, both in 2012.
Despite the sheriffs' refusal to enforce the new laws, Eric Brown, spokesman for Colorado Gov. John W. Hickenlooper (D), told The New York Times, “Particularly on background checks, the numbers show the law is working.”
Since the universal background check law was passed in Colorado, 72 firearm sales were blocked because the would-be buyer was convicted of or charged with a serious crime, or was under a domestic restraining order, according to data released by the Department of Public Safety last week.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed a package of new gun control measures into law in 2013, including universal background checks and the ammunition magazine limit. Support for the new gun laws resulted in the first-ever recall election in state history, which ousted two Democrats -- Senate President John Morse (Colo. Springs) and state Sen. Angela Giron (Pueblo).
A third recall effort against another Democrat, state Sen. Evie Hudak (Westminster), over her support of the gun control legislation, resulted in her resignation in November.
Last night, Morse appeared on MSNBC's "The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell" attacking Cooke, saying that his ultimate goal is to repeal the post-Columbine massacre Amendment 22 in Colorado, which requires background checks at gun shows.
ColoradoPols surfaced a questionnaire reportedly filled out by Cooke, in which he states that he would like to see the repeal of the gun show background check law and the national Brady "insta-check" background check law required for all firearms purchases from gun dealers.
Despite the controversy, the new gun control laws appear to be popular among a majority of Colorado voters.
According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, when asked about the new gun control laws in general Colorado voters said they are opposed, but when asked about the laws specifically, the voters flipped.
When asked about universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers, those surveyed overwhelmingly approved, 85-14. And when asked about the statewide ban on high capacity magazines that hold more than 15 rounds, voters still approve, albeit by a very slim margin, 49-48.
"Voters don't like gun control, or maybe they just don't like the words, 'gun control,'" said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "There's some support for limiting multi-round magazines, and overwhelming support for background checks."
Sheriff Cooke added to the New York Times, "In my oath it says I’ll uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Colorado. It doesn’t say I have to uphold every law passed by the Legislature.”
In a conversation The Colorado Independent's Mike Litwin, Cooke did clarify that he doesn't believe sheriffs should have the final say in what is or isn't constitutional.
"I never once said I get to decide what’s constitutional," Cooke said to The Colorado Independent. "That’s above my pay grade. But if a reporter asks me if I think a law is unconstitutional, I’m allowed to say, aren’t I? I’m allowed to say that I think there are more heinous crimes than a guy who sells his shotgun to his next door neighbor that he’s known for 20 years.”
But Litwin questions the logic:
And yet, I wonder if that’s how the Founding Fathers would have seen it. Because I looked, and I couldn’t find anywhere in either the U.S. Constitution or Colorado Constitution where it says that, if all else fails, a sheriff shall decide.