Colorado Supreme Court Affirms Municipal Authority to Regulate Firearms

By Laurel Witt, Associate Counsel

Colorado Supreme Court Affirms Municipal Authority to Regulate Firearms

In late June, the Colorado Supreme Court in Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Polis, 18SC817 (Colo. 2020), unanimously upheld a 2013 state statute that prohibits large-capacity ammunition magazines, defined as more than 15 rounds, typically associated with semi-automatic weapons. C.R.S. § 18-12-301 et seq. The Court held that this law does not violate the right to bear arms found under Art. II, Sec. 13 of the Colorado Constitution because the state general assembly used a reasonable exercise of police power in enacting the statute. The plaintiffs only argued the case under the Colorado Constitution, not under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; therefore, the Court only decided the case under the Colorado Constitution.

The decision is important for municipalities because the Court affirmed and clarified the standards that apply in a lawsuit over a local or state firearms law. The Court clarified that right to bear arms is not an unlimited right and is subject to reasonable regulation. The standard in Colorado that a court uses to see whether the law should be upheld is called “reasonable exercise test” and originates from Robertson v. City & County of Denver, 874 P.2d 325 (Colo. 1994).

Under the reasonable exercise test, a government may regulate firearms so long as the enactment is (1) a reasonable exercise of the police power (2) that does not render the right to bear arms in defense of home, person, or property moot. When a court looks at a particular firearm regulation, it will ask:

  • Does the law have a legitimate government purpose within the police power?
  • Is there a reasonable fit between the purpose and the means?
  • Does the law serve an actual purpose, not just a conceivable purpose?
  • And, most importantly, does the law stop short of rendering the state constitutional right to bear arms for personal self-protection moot?

The 2013 state law limiting the size of magazines passed the test because the law serves its stated purpose of decreasing the number of deaths in potential mass shootings while allowing citizens to have other options for self-defense.

CML participated as amicus curiae in the case in a brief authored by David Broadwell, CML General Counsel. The brief urged the adoption of a clear and reasonable standard of review in cases challenging firearms laws, consistent with Colorado precedent. To read the brief, click here.