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State to clear up gun control terms

Posted: Friday, Jul 12th, 2013

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — As the legal battle over Colorado’s new gun control laws rages on, attorneys for both sides agreed this week to clear up some of the legislation’s vaguely-worded language.

State officials issued additional guidelines that put an end to any confusion about the intent of House Bill 1224, one of two new gun control regulations that took effect on July 1.

In return, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit — including five of the Valley’s six county sheriffs — dropped their motion asking a U.S. District Court judge for a preliminary injunction against the legislation.

The agreement does not bring an end to the overall case of Cooke v. Hickenlooper, which pits many of Colorado’s top-ranking law enforcement officials against Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But it does resolve at least two major criticisms that a coalition of sheriffs, disabilities-rights activists and licensed gun dealers raised in their original lawsuit.

Opponents of H.B. 1224 feared that the law’s restrictions on gun magazine capacities would outlaw essential components of many common firearms.

Most handguns — and many rifles — have removable floor plates, which allow users to clear ammunition jams, clean the insides of magazines and perform routine maintenance on their weapons. Some rifles also come with fixed tube magazines.

All of those magazines have one thing in common: They can easily be converted to exceed the new 15-round limit.

At the time he signed the bill into law, the governor acknowledged that some people are concerned about the vague definition of “large-capacity” magazines. In response, he said his office worked with the bill’s sponsors to fine-tune the wording for a more precise definition.

But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were not satisfied with that answer, and they went on to challenge the language on the grounds that it could lead to bans on small-capacity magazine sales.

However, now that the agreement is in place, state officials stipulated that magazines with a capacity of up to 15 rounds are not covered under H.B. 1224.

“To actually convert them to higher capacity, one must purchase additional equipment or permanently alter their operation mechanically,” Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said in a letter to the state’s department of public safety. “Unless so altered, they are not prohibited.”

The attorney general’s office also agreed to clarify an ambiguous provision of H.B. 1224 that requires gun owners to keep their weapons in their “continuous possession.”

Hickenlooper initially tried to downplay claims that current owners of large-capacity magazines can only hold on to them as long as they maintain continuous “physical” possession of them.

However, Suthers made it clear this week that the state must follow a reasonable and narrow reading of the new statute.

“‘Continuous possession’ does not require a large-capacity (gun) magazine owner to maintain literally continuous physical possession of the magazine,” he said in his letter of guidance. “‘Continuous possession’ is only lost by a voluntary relinquishment of dominion and control.”

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