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Gov. Jared Polis signs Senate Bill 169 into law on April 28, 2023, which raises the minimum age to 21 to purchase firearms, and makes it illegal to sell a gun to someone younger than 21. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
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A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked enforcement of Colorado’s new law raising the age to purchase all firearms to 21, a blow to Democrats who passed a major slate of gun control measures this year.

The law was set to go into effect on Tuesday.

The ruling was issued by Chief U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer in a lawsuit filed against Gov. Jared Polis by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a hard-line gun rights nonprofit based in Colorado.

Brimmer wrote that the governor’s lawyers hadn’t adequately argued that the Second Amendment lets states restrict firearm purchases for people between the ages of 18 and 20.

“Thus, the court finds that the individual plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits on the question of whether the Second Amendment applies to 18- to 20-year-olds,” Brimmer wrote in a 44-page ruling issuing a preliminary injunction.

RMGO celebrated the decision.

“Since the day this legislation was introduced, we knew it was unconstitutional,” Taylor Rhodes, executive director of RMGO, said in a written statement. “We won’t stop fighting until every single unconstitutional anti-gun law is struck down.”

Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis, said Senate Bill 169 closed a loophole
and that Polis “hopes that the courts agree with him that the law is fully consistent with our Second Amendment rights.”

The law was set to go into effect 91 days after the end of the 2023 legislative session in Colorado, which ended May 8. There has been debate about whether that meant Monday or Tuesday. The governor’s office said Tuesday, and Brimmer based the timing of his decision on that determination.

Senate Bill 169 was passed by Democrats in the legislature this year and signed into law by Polis. It raised the minimum age to purchase any firearm in Colorado to 21. The new law also makes it illegal to sell any gun to someone younger than 21. 

It was already illegal under federal law for people under 21 to purchase handguns, though there’s an ongoing court challenge to that statute.  

The new law made it a Class 2 misdemeanor to buy a gun if you are younger than 21 or for a private dealer to sell a firearm to someone who is younger than 21. Licensed dealers who sell to someone younger than 21 could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. 

The law has exceptions for members of the military and law enforcement.

The preliminary injunction on Senate Bill 169 will remain in effect until RMGO’s federal lawsuit challenging the law is resolved, wrote Brimmer, who was nominated to the federal bench by President George W. Bush. Federal lawsuits can take years to resolve.

The governor’s office argued that Senate Bill 169 was legal under the Second Amendment because 18-to-20 year olds were considered minors when the amendment was adopted and because there were pre-Civil War laws in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee that restricted minor’s access to firearms.

State Sen. Kyle Mullica, D-Thornton, and Majority Leader Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, and Rep. Eliza Hamrick, D-Arapahoe County, were prime sponsors of the bill. They said they disagreed with Brimmer’s interpretation of the constitution and are disappointed with the decision.

We’re proud of our work this year to pass several new laws that will reduce firearm deaths and save lives,” they said in a joint statement.

Brimmer on Monday rejected a request from RMGO to block enforcement of another gun control measure passed by Democrats in the legislature this year and signed by Polis: House Bill 1219, which imposes a three-day waiting period on all Colorado gun purchases.

Brimmer found that RMGO hasn’t shown they have standing in the case.

House Bill 1219 goes into effect on Oct. 1.

Two other gun laws passed by the legislature this year do not currently face legal challenges. Senate Bill 168 rolled back the state’s extra protections for gun and ammunition manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits while Senate Bill 170 expanded Colorado’s red flag law,  which allows judges to order the temporary seizure of guns from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others.

Colorado Sun staff writer Elliott Wenzler contributed to this report.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....