A federal appeals court on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, ordered a lower court judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by 54 county sheriffs and others, challenging gun control laws approved by Colorado in the wake of a movie theater massacre in a Denver suburb, saying the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case.
The measures, prompted by the July 2012 shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora and the slaying later that year of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, were signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper in 2013. These laws were considered a victory by gun-control activists.
The lawsuit challenged the laws banning ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds and requiring universal background checks for gun buyers. The lawsuit claimed that the laws severely restricted Coloradans’ rights to own and bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
After a nine-day trial in 2014, a federal judge found in favor of the Governor Hickenlooper in a 33-page ruling, saying no evidence had been produced by the plaintiffs that showed that their rights to gun ownership would be infringed by the laws.
The plaintiffs appealed to a three-member panel of the 10th Circuit, which wrote that despite the significance of the underlying issues at stake, the plaintiffs had no standing to even bring their lawsuit because they had not demonstrated that they would be personally harmed by the laws. Some of the plaintiffs said the laws created a fear that they might be prosecuted for doing things such as loaning a gun to someone during a target shooting charity event.
But the 10th Circuit said that kind of speculative fear isn’t enough to bring a lawsuit. “Such ‘some day’ speculations are insufficient to establish an injury-in-fact for purposes of … standing,” 10th Circuit Judge Nancy Moritz wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.
The panel ordered the lower-court judge to dismiss the action for “lack of jurisdiction.”
“We feel that we made some strong arguments that this law can inadvertently make a farmer a criminal,” said John Dooley, a spokesman for the Colorado Farm Bureau, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case. “Firearms are integral to farming and ranching, from protecting our livestock and crops to also defending our life and property in some cases.”
A group of Colorado sheriffs who contend that the two controversial state gun laws are unconstitutional vowed to file a new lawsuit.
David Kopel, an attorney representing the sheriffs in the lawsuit, said the 10th Circuit ruling now provides a “road map” for the sheriffs and other plaintiffs to file a new lawsuit alleging new harms. He declined to say what those new complaints might be or how plaintiffs might solve the standing issue.
“That’s an intricate matter of law,” he said.
We will continue to follow this matter and keep you apprised.
Hickenlooper has previously apologized for the way his office handled the gun bills. The video below, posted by lead attorney Dave Kopel, gives full details on what the suit attempted to accomplish.