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Colorado gun-control laws ruled constitutional despite these arguments against them

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Kopel acknowledged that "you wouldn't have 55 sheriffs signing on to this if it was a ban of 100-round magazines. But magazines of up to twenty rounds for handguns and thirty rounds for rifles easily pass the common-use test."

Regarding the background checks, Kopel highlighted the regulations about temporary transfers of firearms. "There are some exceptions in there that are good," he conceded, "but a lot of situations aren't covered. Sheriff Justin Smith talked about someone who flees their house because it's on fire and leaves their firearms with friends for safekeeping. Under the bill, if you don't get the guns in 72 hours, you're a criminal.

"So we challenge the constitutionality of requiring advance government permission for innocent temporary transfers in the first place. We don't take a position on the constitutionality of background checks on actual private sales as a theoretical matter, but we do say that if you're going to do this, there has to be a functional system so people can obey the law -- and the system is by its very nature non-functional."

According to Kopel, "the only people who can get the background check for an actual sale are federally licensed firearms dealers, who can charge a fee of no more than $10. But the plaintiffs in our case, which include some federally licensed firearms dealers, have said they're not going to do the check for ten bucks, because you have to do three pages of federal paperwork for which the gun store is in great legal peril, including possible license revocations and felony prosecutions is there are mistakes made on this form.

"And instant background checks in Colorado are far from instant. They sometimes take hours or days. So it's not going to be worth it for the large majority of firearms stores to do it, and that's especially impactive for those in rural areas, where it may be a long way to a store. You don't want to drive ninety minutes to somewhere and then find the store won't do the check."

The complaint doesn't stop there, taking on issues such as a "continuous possession" requirement that Kopel said is utterly impractical when it comes to gun repair, among other things. But he also saw the laws as casting aspersions on legal gun owners.

"Representative Fields" -- that's Rhonda Fields, who co-sponsored many of the gun bills heard during the recently concluded legislative session -- "repeatedly said the only purpose for magazines with fifteen rounds is to kill a lot of people at once. And we say that's flagrantly false. Sheriffs own those magazines to save innocent lives, not kill a lot of people -- and that's the same reason so many other law-abiding people own these magazines.

"When you base a law on a fact that is obviously not true, and a fact that is essentially a group libel of an entire class of people, there's not a legitimate government purpose behind them," he continued. "Just the opposite. It's an illegitimate purpose, an expression of prejudice and animus -- invidious discrimination, to use legal terms."

In Kopel's opinion, this makes the gun laws similar to Amendment 2, an early '90s measure that set out to ban "special rights" conferred to homosexuals; it was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. As in that case, "you can't just have a law to express the sponsor's hateful prejudices about other people. That's not a legitimate purpose for the law. It's a blood libel to claim that the only reason anybody in this state has a magazine of more than fifteen rounds is because that person wants to murder a lot of innocent people at once."

Continue for more about the ruling in the Colorado gun laws challenge, including additional photos, two vidoes and three original documents.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts