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Confusion Before State Gun Laws Kick In

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In less than a week, Colorado will have two new gun laws. The first expands background checks, the other bans magazines holding more than fifteen rounds… that is, unless they’re legally purchased before July1st. The laws are part of a group passed by state lawmakers this year…regulations that lawyers and law enforcement officials have described as confusing... and even unenforceable.

Jamie Roth is an estate planning attorney in Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. And she’s had to change some of her advice for clients. Roth handles how they plan for passing on their property after death. Often her clients put all of their belongings... including guns... in something called a trust. That can make it easier to pass those on to someone else when they die.

“Frankly I did not previously really inquire too much into clients ownership of firearms. And now this is going to be front and center part of what we do in crafting their estate plans.”

Because, starting Monday, a new law requires background checks when a gun passes from one person to the next.... like friends or family. But it’s not clear whether a background check is definitelyrequired for someone taking over a trust. So many of Roth’s clients are worried they might accidentally break that law… which has consequences.

“This is a class one misdemeanor, and boy you’re going to test me here, my criminal law is a little rusty. The possible penalty for a class one misdemeanor the maximum jail term is eighteen months.”

And that comes with a fine, too. So, if Roth’s clients are worried about those penalties, she now suggests they take their guns out of their trust, just to be on the safe side. Colorado’s new gun laws have drawn anger from many gun owners, prompting potentially major pushback. That includes what could be the first recall vote of a state legislator. And, a lawsuit filed by more than fifty Colorado sheriffs. Citing confusion over how to enforce the new laws--and opposition to the philosophy behind them-- the sheriffs filed a civil rights lawsuit in May. That includes Garfield Sheriff Lou Villario.

“These laws that are being passed are infringing on me as a law abiding citizen, you as a law abiding citizen, to freely own guns according to our constitution.”

A neighboring sheriff has a different perspective. Eagle County Sheriff Joseph Hoy, hasn’t signed on to the lawsuit.

“Something for me just didn’t sit right. I think in our country we’re kind of lawsuit happy, everyone is. If something doesn’t go right I’ll file a lawsuit. And I felt that we as sheriffs or those sheriffs signing on were doing the same thing.”

That’s partly, says Hoy, because the suit is coordinated by the Independence Institute in Denver. He does agree that the new laws are so unclear they’ll be hard to enforce. Take the new law that bans new magazines with more than fifteen bullets.

“You know if you’re out hunting and I come upon you and you have a magazine that exceeds what the new law is going to say, I can say that’s a nice rifle you got there. How many does your magazine hold? And you say oh, twenty-two. Well, I can’t go any further. I can say well, how long have you had that magazine?  I’ve had it five years. Oh ok, thanks. You don’t have to prove anything. I can’t challenge you any further than that. And even if I look can look at the magazine, there’s nothing on it that will tell me when and where it was produced, and when you it.”

For now, Sheriff Hoy plans to enforce the laws as best he can, if the situation arises. As for that federal civil rights lawsuit – that’s currently in Denver district court. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for July 10th.

Copyright 2020 Aspen Public Radio . To see more, visit Aspen Public Radio.

Elise Thatcher is a reporter with Aspen Public Radio since 2013.
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