Colorado's New Gun Controls Promise Dubious Public Safety Benefits and Lurking Legal Perils


Independence Institute

Yesterday Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills imposing a 15-round limit on gun magazines and requiring background checks for almost all firearm transfers. The magazine limit, which was raised from 10 rounds in the original version of the bill, takes effect on July 1, after which it will be illegal to obtain standard magazines such as the ones that ship with the Glock 17, one of the most popular handguns in America, or the AR-15, one of the most popular rifles. Since people who own "large- capacity magazines" before then will be allowed to keep them, Coloradans have been stocking up in anticipation of the ban.

Hickenlooper acknowledges that the magazine limit imposes a burden on law-abiding gun owners but argues that "the potential for damage seems to outweigh, significantly, the inconvenience that people would have." That judgment is based on the premise that mass shooters will kill fewer people because they have to switch magazines more often. "In certain circumstances," Hickenlooper says, "someone bent on destruction, even if they're slowed just for a number of seconds, that allows others to escape."

One cannot dismiss that possibility out of hand, and supporters of magazine limits cite two mass shootings—the 2011 Tucson massacre and Colin Ferguson's 1993 rampage on the Long Island Rail Road—that stopped when the gunman was overpowered as he reloaded. At the same time, however, extra rounds might make an important difference for people using guns in self-defense, especially if they face multiple attackers. In fact, the seconds it takes to switch magazines are apt to matter more for someone who is suddenly attacked by armed criminals than for a killer who carefully plans an assault on defenseless people in a school or movie theater. Furthermore, law-abiding people are more likely to be constrained by a legal limit on magazine capacity than people bent on mass murder.

Hickenlooper also did not consider the implications of defining prohibited "large-capacity magazines" to include magazines that can be "readily converted" to accept more than 15 rounds. Critics such as Independence Institute President Jon Caldara note that most magazines include a base plate that can be removed to attach an extender holding additional cartridges. (Caldara shows how in the video at the end of this post.) Hence seemingly legal magazines can be "readily converted" to hold more than 15 rounds, which means they will be illegal to sell as of July. The upshot, Caldara warns, is that "almost all guns in Colorado will never be able to get a magazine again."

Another wrinkle highlighted by the Independence Institute: Current owners of "large-capacity magazines" must maintain "continuous possession" of them after June 30. If they transfer them to someone else—even temporarily, even to a friend or relative at a shooting range—they are committing a crime. At the same time, it is a crime that is unlikely to be detected. Although transfers of grandfathered magazines are notionally prohibited, if police encounter somebody with one they will have a hard time proving he did not legally possess it prior to the ban.

The new background check requirement applies to all transfers of firearms except "a bona fide gift or loan between immediate family members" (meaning "spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, first cousins, aunts, and uncles"). There are also exceptions for temporary transfers at shooting ranges or while hunting. In almost all other cases people who sell, swap, or give away their guns will have to seek the services of a licensed firearms dealer so he can check whether the recipient has a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record. The dealer will be required to keep a record of the transfer, as he would for one of his own sales.

The problem (or redeeming feature, depending on your perspective) is that there is no way to seriously enforce this requirement without gun registration. If the state does not know where all the guns are, it cannot know when one has been transferred without a background check. It seems the issue would arise only when someone commits a crime with a gun, gets caught, and fingers the guy who sold him the weapon. But as I've said before, since the categories of people who are legally barred from owning guns are ridiculously broad, spotty enforcement is preferable to "universal background checks," especially if they are combined with better databases.

Addendum: A group of county sheriffs is planning a legal challenge to the magazine limit and the expanded background check requirement, arguing that the laws violate the Second Amendment and are unconstitutionally vague under the 14th Amendment.

NEXT: Officer Cleared in Deadly Anaheim Shooting

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  1. I got this far:

    ” “the potential for damage seems to outweigh, significantly, the inconvenience that people would have.”

    So he is saying we should sacrifice liberty for security. Since this has never been done before it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

    I have given up debating gun control with anti-gunners. fuck em. My standard line now is “I have a second amendment right and you arent going to take it away. Go fuck yourself.”

    1. Sometime you just want to respond, “I have a gun and know how to use it. Do you really want to piss me off?”

    2. Unless the terms “arms”,”people”,”right”, and “infringed” mean something arcane and unknowable, the 2A has been being ignored since 1934.

      The answer is “you don’t like guns, fine, amend the constitution or shut the fuck up.”

      It’s about time for people who value their right to arms to stop playing defense and start playing offense. Instead of fighting battles over how many cartridges one is allowed to load into a magazine, we should be hitting them with bills that rollback all of the past infringements.

      Scared of black rifles because their um black, fuck you, I should have a right to a real assault rifle without having to pay $thousands for one made before 19 fucking 86.

      How can being forced to obtain a licence from the government to engage in the commerce of firearms not an infringement upon the right to arms?

      Every single law Congress has passed regarding guns infringes upon our rights. Every single law.

      1. Right. I consider “arms” to be anything I can carry. This includes Stinger missiles, anti-tank missiles, and anti vehicle mines.

        How dare the slavers try to outlaw these!

        1. God knows there has never been any “need” for such weapons.

          Why even call it the United States anymore if you’re going to ignore the purpose of its founding?

  2. Did they also do something about that idiot provision about pump shotguns?

    1. Did they also do something about that idiot provision about pump shotguns?

      What provision was that? I didn’t follow this as closely as I should have, as I was watching the mag size debate.

      1. “buy a shotgun. buy a shotgun”

      2. As written the law was going to ban any pump shotgun capable of accepting a magazine extension.

        1. So any pump shotgun then?

          1. Feature, not a bug. Just like the “readily extendible magazine” issue.

  3. What about pornographic magazines?

    1. In my experience they can’t take anywhere near 15 rounds before they become unusable.

      1. Speak for yourself
        [carefully separates two ‘glued’ pages of penthouse]

        1. Some of us have bigger rounds.

          1. touche

  4. I would recommend checking out Jeff Goldstein over at Protein Wisdom for some great opinion and perspective about the recent Colorado gun laws.

    Instructions for living in Coloradostan, 1

    That post in particular has an A+++ EXCELLENT youtube of a seminar with a Virginia Defense attorney and a police investigator explaining why you NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER……EVER…talk to the police when they come to ask you anything at all.

    That video is here-….._embedded#!

  5. Fuck Gov. Lick-a-pooper. That’s all.

  6. “If it saves one life.”

    “You don’t need it.”

  7. “If it saves one life.”

    “You don’t need it.”

    1. I was trying to press preview but my finger freaked out and somehow double clicked submit.

  8. Easily evaded. I foresee an increase in “family” “gifts”. “Oh, this new gun and magazine? My cousin gave these to me. So no record.” “Oh, that gun I used to have? I gave it to my cousin. So no record.”

  9. My favorite response is that if high-cap magazines have no benefit in self-defense situations, then the cops don’t need them either.

    And if the cops need them because they do have self-defense benefits, then the brainless utilitarian calculation that their potential for (criminal) harm outweighs their (self-defense) benefits gets a lot harder.

    1. My favorite response is that if high-cap magazines have no benefit in self-defense situations, then the cops don’t need them either.

      Oh I won’t let this go either. Any restrictions on firearms and patrol rifles must extend to the police. If they don’t, then your justification for need goes out the window.

    2. This. They can’t claim that semi-auto firearms and high cap magazines are “weapons of war” that are “only suitable for the battlefield” if cops, politicians’ protective details, and Hollywood movie stars’ bodyguards are allowed to carry them.

  10. brainless

    This is the key word here, RC. You can’t reason with these people no matter how easy the concept is to understand. They’ll just start screaming things like CHILDRUNZZZ and start throwing poo. At best, they’ll just start babbling incoherently as cognitive dissonance causes their 2 remaining braincells to overload and melt.

  11. Sound like a bunch of idiots running that state.

    1. Anonbot is both pro-gun AND pro-child.

  12. I’m clicking on a 26rd AR mag on and checking if they will ship to Colorado. Their website still claims they will. Hmm…

    Meh, just read the linked article. Take effect Jul 1.

    Welcome to magazine limits, Colorado.

  13. Hickenlooper said law enforcement should try to find common ground.

    “This shouldn’t be rural versus urban. We are one state,” he said.

    Shorter Hickenlooper: Agree with me.

  14. The Tucson shooter was NOT reloading when stopped. He was trying to clear a jam in a supersized magazine, I think a 33 rounder.

    I am really tired of seeing this error repeated everywhere.

    The Aurora movie theater shooter was also stymied by a jammed supersized magazine, IIRC, but it might have been another spree killer.

    If the hoplophobes really wanted to use magazine capacity to reduce spree victims, they would mandate those supersized magazines.

    1. You should have been on Piers Morgan last night saying that. I very disappointed in you.

      1. I’d probably hit him over the head with a 33 rounder and laugh maniacally. I don’t think it would be productive. But it would be fun, and I laugh maniacally now thinking about it.

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