Victory in Boulder!
When Boulder, Colorado passed an “assault weapon” and large capacity magazine ban in 2018, gun owners scoffed at the ultra-liberal city’s agenda, unsurprised by the virtue signaling and visible presence of Bloomberg’s astroturf organization Moms Demand Action. Statistically, a person was more likely to be killed by baseball bat than by one of the firearms they were arbitrarily defining as “assault weapons” inside the city limits, those stats being ONE for death by baseball bat to ZERO for death by “assault weapon”. The ordinance also restricted the age of purchase for a long gun to those 21 and over, and banned open carry of their arbitrarily defined assault weapons in the city of Boulder.
What did come as a surprise was that many Boulder residents weren’t okay with these new laws, and now after nearly three years and two legal challenges against the ordinance, a Boulder County judge has overturned it.
This is a big win for those who fought against Boulder’s ban, such as Rally for our Rights who lead two large gun rights rallies in downtown Boulder and even held an AR-15 giveaway to raise money for the legal challenges.
The NRA backed lawsuit Chambers v Boulder sought injunctive relief claiming that two portions of the ordinance were preempted by Colorado state law, something that was argued repeatedly by gun owners, constitutional experts, and gun rights advocates during the heated debate leading up to the final passage of the ordinance.
Colorado’s preemption statute, CRS 29-11.7-103, states: “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. Any such ordinance, regulation, or other law enacted by a local government prior to March 18, 2003, is void and unenforceable.”
The two portions of the ordinance Chambers v Boulder claimed violated the preemption law were:
Count 1 – that the portions of the Ordinance banning the sale purchase, and possession of assault weapons, and enacting the certification process are preempted by state law;
Count 2 – that the portion of the Ordinance that ban Large Capacity Magazines are preempted by state law.
On March 12, 2021 Boulder County District Judge Andrew Hartman agreed with the NRA backed plaintiffs that Boulder’s ban on possessing and transferring commonly-possessed “assault weapons” and ten-round magazines was preempted by state law. Here is what he wrote in his final order, effectively overturning the ban:
“In sum, the Court finds that State of Colorado law preempts Boulder City Ordinance 8245 and Ordinance 8259 as they relate to the prohibition of the sale, possession, and transfer of assault weapons and LCMs, specifically the inclusion of “assault weapons” and “LCMs” in the definition of “illegal weapons” pursuant to Boulder Rev. Code § 5-8-2. These provisions are invalid, and enforcement of them is enjoined. 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.”
Read the entire 22 page final order here.
Boulder still faces yet another lawsuit, backed by Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF). Unlike the NRA backed suit which solely targeted preemption, the MSLF legal challenge, Caldara v Boulder, began in U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of the Boulder ordinance, citing violation of the Second Amendment as well as preemption. The U.S. District Court of Colorado chose to abstain from hearing the case until the NRA backed state case was decided. MSLF appealed that decision in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and most recently they filed a petition for Supreme Court review of the abstention issue. That was denied. A noteworthy aspect of the MSLF case is that in addition to challenging the firearm and magazine bans, it challenges the two other key points of the Boulder ordinance, both which were dismissed from the NRA one early on: 1.) the section prohibiting 18-20 year olds from purchasing long guns, and 2.) open carry of “assault weapons” in Boulder.
The city of Boulder can appeal the most recent decision, and if they do, it could eventually land in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. Colorado’s current Supreme Court has not been friendly to gun related issues on the grounds of preemption, primarily their most recent 2020 decision on the RMGO backed legal challenge against the states ban of magazines larger than 15 rounds. It should be noted that if it was to go to the Colorado Supreme Court and were decided in favor of Boulder, that would be the end of the NRA suit, as without a constitutional challenge, it cannot move to a higher court – but the MSLF suit could continue.
That said, the Boulder challenge is unique in that preemption law is specific to local government and does not specifically prohibit the legislature from enacting statewide laws.
The most notable time Colorado Supreme Court has heard a local government firearm preemption challenge was in 2005 after Denver sued the state of Colorado over the 2003 preemption law, saying the city should be able to enact it’s own laws under home rule. The was because Denver’s own firearm laws they had on the books since 1994 should have been nullified by the new preemption law. In the end, a Denver District Court judge agreed with the city, eventually landing the case in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. The state’s highest court deadlocked and the rare split-ruling meant Denver prevailed in the case and the city could resume enforcing its firearm laws that had not been enforced during litigation. Many familiar with the case say the ruling was not based on the preemption law itself, but because Denver had enacted their law prior to the date the preemption law was enacted.
MSLFs case is still alive and well, although they will likely wait to see if Boulder chooses to appeal before making a decision as to what their next move will be. If their case eventually moves forward in the 10th Circuit, it could become an important Second Amendment case to watch.
Although the Chambers v Boulder decision is specific to Boulder, it will undoubtedly set a precedent as other municipalities consider pushing similar laws.
Now that this is settled, we assume gun control groups such as Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Giffords will start tackling real issues, like skyrocketing violent crime. We won’t hold our breath though.