The list of sheriffs who plan to challenge the state’s new gun-control legislation has grown to include more than 40 of Colorado’s 62 sheriffs.
Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap, Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver and Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson are among the group seeking to overturn the recently passed state laws, which set limits on ammunition magazines and expand background checks for firearms transfers.
Independence Institute attorney David Kopel, who is directing the planned lawsuit, says the laws run counter to the Second Amendment and “violate the highest law in the country, the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Heap and Weaver both claim the new laws will make it harder for law-abiding people to defend themselves. Kopel claims the background-check law could criminalize the actions of innocent people.
Their words ring hollow to Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine High School and who serves as spokesman for gun-control group Colorado Ceasefire.
“It’s all nonsense,” said Mauser, who characterized the sheriffs’ claims as “sour grapes.”
The sheriffs simply “don’t like that those two bills passed” and “they have become a voice for the NRA and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners,” Mauser said.
Kopel’s courtroom experience on Second Amendment issues includes a 2008 Supreme Court case, The District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court ruled that the District of Columbia could not ban handguns or self-defense with a handgun in a person’s home.
“They’ve outlawed an accessory that is essential to the use of a firearm,” Kopel said of Colorado’s limit on magazines. “We are challenging the background-check bill for temporary and innocent transfers. With the new law, if your friend from out of town comes to visit and you loan him your gun to hunt, you’re a criminal. That is overreaching and unreasonable.”
Kopel’s institute will represent the sheriffs free of charge.
Weaver made his position on the issue clear in an April 5 letter released by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
“I don’t think the laws will make people safer,” Weaver wrote. “Tighter gun laws will not prevent criminals from getting guns. The laws will only make it harder for citizens to defend themselves.”
Heap echoed Weaver’s sentiments, calling the laws “unenforceable.” Heap posted an online message criticizing the legislation in a video that garnered close to 500,000 hits.
“Extreme Democratic legislators have unilaterally decided that making it harder for you to defend yourself will somehow make you safer, or at least make them feel better,” Heap said. “Extreme Democratic legislators continue to disregard the will of the people in search of their own personal and political agendas.”
Mauser finds the arguments by the sheriffs and their lawyer empty. “They think (the gun-control laws) are difficult to enforce, as if there are no other laws that are difficult to enforce,” he said.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment grants an individual right to gun ownership, but that restrictions are allowable, Mauser said. “You can’t pass a law as restrictive as Washington, D.C., but this isn’t anything like Washington, D.C.,” he said.
He said the Colorado laws provide “reasonable restrictions to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people” and said the background-check law provides “exceptions for temporary transfers or transfers within families.”
Mauser said the sheriffs are “good at dreaming up other kinds of circumstances” to criticize the laws. “You can’t account for every possible situation someone will dream up,” he said. “They just don’t like the basic concept of background checks.”
“As for the magazines, the Supreme Court said you could have restrictions on what they call dangerous weapons,” Mauser said. “Most Americans would say assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are dangerous weapons, and Colorado acted on it.”
The most common form of self-defense with a gun involves handguns, he said, adding: “Handguns aren’t outlawed.”
“If there’s anyone overreaching, it’s them,” Mauser said of the group opposing gun-control laws. “It’s all nonsense.”
Kopel declined to identify the court where the lawsuit will be filed, but said he expects to file the suit around the second week of May.
Assistant editor Scott Gilbert contributed to this report.