DENVER - A constitutional challenge of Colorado's new gun laws began in U.S. District Court Monday and will stretch for two weeks as Second Amendment advocates try to eliminate magazine limits and universal background checks.
Deputy Attorney General Matthew Grove said the new laws are critical to the state's public safety, noting that they were passed in response to mass shootings that occurred in 2012, one in an Aurora movie theater and another in a Connecticut elementary school.
Lawmakers passed five gun laws during the 2013 legislative sessions and the ensuing political battle over those laws has led to recall elections and repeal efforts. A group of gun sellers and manufacturers, and a number of county sheriffs filed the lawsuit in May.
Attorney Richard Westfall, who is representing the plaintiffs said the new requirements for background checks on all gun sales and transfers and the ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition are burdensome and restrict the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
U.S. District Court of Colorado Chief Judge Marcia Krieger is presiding over the case and could rule once the hearing concludes but may take time to consider the evidence presented as well.
The first witness called was Bob Hewson, executive director of Colorado Youth Outdoors, who testified that it was unclear how House Bill 1229 - the universal background check law - applied to firearms owned by the non-profit organization.
He said his program was in limbo when it came to transferring firearms between regional offices, to borrowing firearms for fundraising events such as the annual Maverick fundraiser shoot or loaning guns to individuals for use outside of the Colorado Youth Outdoors programs.
But on cross-examination Hewson said the Maverick event would go on as planned in 2014 despite the new law.
The law includes a number of exemptions for the mandatory background check, including temporary transfers at shooting ranges, shooting competitions, while hunting or any loan of a firearm to a family member. Additionally a gun can be loaned to anyone for up to 72 hours for any reason.
Hewson said the only exemption that applied to his organization was the 72-hour loan, which put time restrictions on when they loan guns to individuals or within their organization from one branch to another. Additionally, he said the law says any transfer made under the 72-hour exception would make Colorado Youth Outdoors liable for damages caused by unlawful use of the weapon; a risk he said was too burdensome.
Hewson, after a long pause and the judge reminding him that he could invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, said that since the law took effect in July 2013 his organization has not loaned out firearms to individuals for longer than 72 hours.
He did say the organization has since changed its waiver form for loaning out firearms to include a question about whether the recipient of the gun is a felon.
Hewson did invoke the Fifth Amendment to not answer the question of whether his organization had attempted to have a background check run on individuals for purposes of loaning out a gun for longer than 72 hours.
It's expected that the plaintiff will bring several witnesses to testify about how the background check requirement is burdensome while the defense will try to show how the law works to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and is a reasonable restriction under the Second Amendment.
Contact Megan Schrader