Gun law

Agreement clarifying interpretation neutralizes panic over implementation

Debate over gun control laws seems to follow a rhetorical pattern wherein those opposed to any limitations on access to guns first complain that such sanctions unduly impinge citizens’ Second Amendment rights and then look to discredit controls for their potential unforeseen circumstances.

The discussion in Colorado this year has not strayed from this path, but with an agreement forged Wednesday in the first round of a court battle over gun magazine capacity, the latter of these fights has been neutralized for now.

At issue was language that opponents of the law limiting magazine capacity to 15 rounds worried would result in a de facto ban of virtually all ammunition magazines and also prevent gun owners from getting their guns professionally serviced.

Those opponents were seeking an injunction against the law’s implementation so as to avoid these potential ramifications.

A federal judge dismissed that request, but an agreement forged between gun law opponents – the plaintiffs in the case – and the state will clarify the language dictating how the law will be enforced. That clarification will be embodied in a memo from Attorney General John Suthers.

The agreement is a welcome departure from the entrenched division that has infused state politics with vitriol since gun control became an issue and will provide a necessary bit of clarification to help calm fears about what the magazine capacity limitation will mean now that it has taken effect.

Suthers’ memo will give enforcement guidance that will calm fears that House Bill 1224’s language requiring gun owners to have “continuous possession” of their firearms meant that the guns could never be in another’s hands. It will also clarify that no one will face prosecution for possessing ammunition magazines with removable baseplates because they could conceivably be converted to accommodate more than 15 rounds.

This is, at its root, legalistic housekeeping. But it should help douse the gun-control inferno fueling recall efforts and injecting political rhetoric at the state and local levels with a particularly nasty tone.

It also clears the court’s calendar to deal with the fundamental issue at hand: whether the ammunition magazine limitation passes constitutional muster. Fifty-five Colorado sheriffs say it does not, and the state of Colorado maintains that it does.

That is the question at the crux of virtually all gun-control debates and should be the court’s focus. The clarification agreed upon by the plaintiffs and the state eliminated a distraction, and both sides deserve credit for their willingness to come to agreement on the matter.

While Chief U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger dismissed plaintiffs’ injunction request and, more importantly, their concerns about the vagaries of the law, finding a way to settle the issue is an important step forward in a debate that has little history of compromise or mutual agreement. Small victories in such cases deserve great attention.