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Crime and Courts

Judge rules Colorado cities cannot enact their own gun restrictions, case could move to state Supreme Court

The law, passed after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, banned the possession of assault-style weapons and some gun accessories that make it easier to fire large numbers of bullets quickly.


Boulder has been blocked from enforcing its 2-year-old ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in the city — potentially providing the state Supreme Court an opportunity to review whether the state’s cities can create their own gun ownership restrictions, a judge said.

Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled March 12 that the city cannot enforce its ban because under state law, local governments cannot prohibit the possession or sale of firearms.

“These provisions are invalid, and enforcement of them is enjoined,” Hartman said. “The Court has determined that only Colorado state (or federal) law can prohibit the possession, sale and transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.”

Boulder spokesperson Shannon Aulabaugh said city attorneys have said there are plans to meet with outside counsel this week to decide how to move forward and whether the decision will be appealed.

The Boulder Police Department will not enforce the ordinance unless there is a later court ruling undoing Hartman’s decision, she said.

If the case reaches the Colorado Supreme Court, it would mark the first time for the justices to weigh in on whether the state’s local governments are permitted to enact gun laws more restrictive than those in state statutes.

The Boulder City Council in 2018 passed two ordinances banning the possession of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, following the mass shooting at a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.

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Boulder’s assault weapon ban includes certain pistols and semi-automatic rifles with pistol grips, folding or telescoping stocks, or protruding grips that allow firearms to be stabilized with the non-trigger hand. The city defined large-capacity magazines as “any ammunition-feeding device with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.”

The ordinance set violations punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
Several people said the ordinance violated a state law passed in 2003 that said “a local government may not enact an ordinance, regulation or other law that prohibits the sale, purchase or possession of a firearm that a person may lawfully sell, purchase or possess under state or federal law.”

City attorneys argued Boulder had the right to pass the ordinance because it was necessary because of a lack of rules on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines at the state level.

The judge disagreed, pointing to the list of weapons deemed illegal or dangerous by Colorado.

An attorney for the plaintiffs who challenged the Boulder gun law did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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