Gun proponents aim for showdown at polls in 2014

The Colorado Statesman

If gun rights supporters have their way, only Colorado voters would be able to place limitations on purchasing and possessing ammunition storage and feeding devices of any capacity.

A proposed 2014 ballot initiative, which is currently being reviewed by the Colorado Supreme Court, would amend the state constitution to establish a right to purchase and possess high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The initiative comes after the legislature this year passed a package of gun control bills that included prohibiting high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds. The ballot question would not necessarily reverse the legislation, but it could offer an opportunity for court challenges to overturn the law.

The current ballot title would read, “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution prohibiting any capacity-based restriction on the purchase or possession of ammunition storage and feeding devices other than a restriction imposed by a voter-approved law?”

Two proponents are pushing the initiative, Tim LeVier and JT Davis, both from Littleton. LeVier, a compliance analyst at Western Union, said he never even owned a gun before he started thinking about the ballot question. Now he owns a Springfield XD-9 that holds 16 rounds. “I went to a couple of gun shows… so that’s my first ownership. I’m not a member of any gun rights group,” LeVier, an unaffilated voter, said.

“We came up with it on our own,” he continued. “We’re still trying to build up support…”

LeVier says he and his partner on the drive simply want to put the magazine question in the hands of Colorado voters.

“The limitation aside, I wasn’t a big fan of how they enacted it…” he explained. “The fact that there are exceptions and it is unenforceable. It’s not hard to enforce, it is impossible to enforce it…”

Critics of the magazine limit — including many county sheriffs — have said throughout the legislative process that the magazine restriction is unenforceable.

They also point out that magazines can be easily converted at a low cost by purchasing a few materials at a local home improvement or hardware store.

“These people have an agenda; everyone has an agenda, they don’t want to make the world better, they just want to win,” LeVier declared of Democrats who pushed gun control through the legislature. “It’s a competition, as far as I can see it.

“For us it’s not a competition, it’s about making sure that we have the environment that we want to live in,” he continued.

In order to place the question on the ballot, supporters need 86,105 valid signatures. Proponents acknowledge that they would need more than 100,000 signatures to make it practical.

Currently, they have not heard from large gun groups like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the National Rifle Association. Proponents are relying on a grassroots effort.

“We’ve got to do it all,” said LeVier. “We wanted to do it as a grassroots effort. We have enough money at this point to print petitions and to do it on a volunteer basis, but I’m not comfortable yet with the number of volunteers we have, so we need more exposure.”

Challenging the ballot title

But before proponents can begin collecting signatures, they must wait on a challenge to the ballot title before the Colorado Supreme Court. The title board approved the single subject on April 17. A motion for rehearing was denied on April 26, which brings the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Petitioners George Kennedy and Don Macalady have hired well-known Democratic attorney Mark Grueskin to file the appeal. The acclaimed elections specialist is chair of the Government & Policy Group at Heizer Paul Grueskin LLP in Denver.

The filing asks the court to review the ballot title, suggesting, “The title set by the Board is ambiguous, misleading, does not fairly and correctly express the true meaning of the initiative, and will lead to voter confusion.”

Petitioners believe the ballot title should inform voters that the proposed initiative applies to “gun magazines,” pointing out that the title does not include “guns.”

Opponents are also concerned that the title does not state that the initiative purports to create a “right” of unlimited access to ammunition magazines.

Macalady is himself a gun owner. But during the gun control debate at the Capitol this year he offered a unique perspective, forming the group Hunters Against Gun Violence.

“As a hunter and someone who has owned guns since I was a young boy, I believe that commonsense gun legislation makes us all safer,” Macalady explained. “We need… action to help us prevent another tragedy.”

Hunters Against Gun Violence submitted a petition to lawmakers during the debate that stated, “We are all hunters and cherish the privilege of being able to use firearms to pursue recreation and food for our families.

“Nevertheless, we do not support the proliferation of guns that have no relationship to, or utility for, lawful hunting of game animals and varmints,” the petition continued.

In addition to the limit on high-capacity ammunition magazines, Macalady’s group also supported a bill that implemented universal background checks in the state.

Lawsuit filed

Meanwhile, 54 of the state’s 64 county sheriffs filed a federal lawsuit on May 17 against the legislation that created the limitation on magazines, as well as a separate measure that imposed a fee for background checks related to firearms purchases.

The libertarian-leaning Independence Institute is heading the lawsuit. The challenge has been filed as a civil rights case. The suit alleges that the laws violate the Second and Fourteenth amendments, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sheriffs believe that the magazine law is unenforceable because law enforcement would need to determine whether a magazine is “designed to be readily converted” which is not something that is easily identifiable. Plaintiffs argue that the magazine ban indirectly outlaws smaller magazines with its language, including all handgun and rifle box magazines with removable floor plates, and all rifle tube magazines with removable end caps.

Sheriffs are also concerned that the law requires them to determine whether a magazine was in existence prior to the ban, and whether a magazine had been in continuous possession since enactment of the ban.

“This makes it illegal for a wife to let her husband use her magazine for self-defense, or to borrow her magazine and take it to a target range,” states a news release from the Independence Institute announcing the lawsuit. “Because disabled citizens cannot change magazines rapidly, their fundamental right to self-defense in the home is especially threatened by the magazine ban.”

As for the background check fee, the lawsuit suggests that the law imposes an “unworkable system of mandatory fees and background checks on many temporary transfers of firearms.”

Plaintiffs also include disabled individuals, including Outdoor Buddies, a charitable organization for the disabled. They suggest that outdoor sports programs will be prohibited from lending a firearm to someone for a hunting trip. Similarly, family farms will have to pay the background check fee per family member and farmhand every time the farm purchases a gun.

There are 21 plaintiffs in addition to the 54 sheriffs, including the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Colorado State Shooting Association, the Colorado Outfitters Association, Colorado Youth Outdoors, and Women for Concealed Carry. Also joining the suit is Erie-based Magpul Industries, which has vowed to leave the state because the laws make it difficult for them to manufacture magazines.

These bills do nothing to make Colorado a safer place to live, to work, to play, to raise a family,” said Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, who was an outspoken critic of the laws as they made their way through the legislature. “It should never have even gotten to this point in the first place.”

But Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, who co-sponsored the law limiting high-capacity magazines, said sponsors paid close attention to the concerns being raised by plaintiffs.

“We diligently crafted these public safety laws with respect given to the Second Amendment constitutional rights of every American,” she said. “These laws were not constructed haphazardly; they were constructed to protect us from massacres like the ones we suffered in Aurora and Newtown.

“We worked with constitutional lawyers and studied laws that we know worked in other states,” Hodge continued. “We can’t just sit by and do nothing while first-graders and moviegoers are being mowed down in one fell swoop with weapons equipped with large-capacity magazines.”

Hodge believes sheriffs are playing a political game in order to appease interests from big gun lobby groups like the NRA. She criticized the sheriffs for calling the laws unenforceable.

“Reasonable Coloradans know that one doesn’t need a large-capacity magazine for self-defense, and an instant background check isn’t an inconvenience because it can save lives,” exclaimed Hodge. “These reasonable public safety laws yield to every one of our constitutional rights, including our Second Amendment rights, and they promote domestic tranquility, a guarantee in the preamble of our constitution.

“It’s time to stop playing politics and start protecting Coloradans from massacres and unnecessary gun violence,” she concluded.

Peter@coloradostatesman.com