Colorado Sheriffs Sue Over New State Gun Laws

Nearly all of Colorado's county sheriffs have signed onto a federal lawsuit against the state of Colorado arguing that the new laws pushed by Democrats and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper violate the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.

Sheriffs in 54 of Colorado's 64 counties joined the lawsuit with only Grand, Eagle, Pueblo, Chaffee, Conejos, San Miguel, Boulder, Pitkin, Broomfield and Denver counties opting-out.

The lawsuit takes aim at two of the bills Hickenlooper signed into law in March -- House Bill 1224, which banned high-capacity magazines limiting them to 15 rounds as well as House Bill 1229, the universal background check bill which requires background checks for all gun sales and transfers in the state.

"We each took an oath. The line in the sand has been drawn, and we will stand united," said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa who did join the lawsuit, The Denver Post reported.

The sheriffs filed the lawsuit in federal court Friday.

Republican Attorney General John Suthers, who is defending the state in the lawsuit, issued a statement Friday on the lawsuit. “In defending the lawsuit as counsel for the state, the objective of the Attorney General’s Office will be to get court rulings on the legality of various aspects of the legislation as expeditiously as possible," Suthers said in a statement. "Colorado citizens, and law-abiding gun owners in particular, deserve such clarification.”

In a guidance letter to law enforcement regarding how they should implement the new gun laws, Suthers elaborated on the legal definition of a "high-capacity magazine" saying that the magazine features "must be judged objectively" and that magazines that hold less than 15 rounds must not be defined as "large capacity" simply because it includes a removable baseplate which may be replaced with one that allows the magazine to accept additional rounds, but added "a magazine whose baseplate is replaced with one that does allow a magazine to accept more than fifteen rounds would be a "large capacity magazine."

Aurora theater shooting victims' relatives condemned the sheriffs for filing the lawsuit, accusing them of playing politics, The Associated Press' Ivan Moreno reports. "As a parent who lost my son Alex at the Aurora theater shooting, I ask these people to put themselves in my place," Tom Sullivan said in a statement. "I do not understand why these politicians are picking guns over people."

In the months since the gun control bills were first introduced in the Legislature, several of Colorado's sheriffs have made no secret of their opposition to the bills.

But El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa took to conservative talk radio station "The Jeff Crank Show" in March to accuse Colorado Springs Democratic Senate President John Morse of witholding a bill on pay raises for the County Sheriffs of Colorado because of their opposition to the gun control bills.

Maketa posted a lengthy piece titled "An Injustice Against Our Citizens" on the El Paso County Sheriff's main website and Facebook page alleging that the Senate Democrats turned away citizens who wanted to testify against House Bill 1229.

Earlier this month, just hours before President Barack Obama gave a speech in Colorado pressing Congress to pass gun control measures that would include a bill to expand background checks, 16 of the state's sheriffs held a press conference in protest.

“We are here to provide a voice to the millions of honest, law-abiding Coloradans who were ignored by their governor as well as by the majority (Democratic) party at the State House,” Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said.

In a postion paper on gun control, the County Sheriffs of Colorado publicly opposed the laws as well saying that “gun control does not equate to lower crime rates.”

From the position paper:

The County Sheriffs of Colorado know first hand that strict gun control laws do not deter criminals from getting firearms illegally and committing crimes. Rather, they hurt law-abiding citizens who may be left unprotected because law enforcement cannot arrive in time to stop a criminal's bullet once he (sic) has pulled the trigger.

After Governor John Hickenlooper signed ammunition magazine limits and expanded background checks into law, more sheriffs began calling the laws "unenforceable."

“We can’t figure out how these laws would be enforced at this point in time without violating someone’s constitutional rights,” Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger told Bloomberg.

Weld County Sheriff John Cooke then took it a step further and said he wouldn't enforce the laws, arguing that they give a "false sense of security."

The proposed lawsuit against the gun restrictions will reportedly be handled by attorney Dave Kopel, an adjunct professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law and research director at the Independence Institute.

Kopel recently penned an Op-Ed in the National Review Online titled "Turning Gun Owners Into Felons," which takes aim at universal background checks.



Pivotal Moments In The Federal Gun Control Debate