Judge Temporarily Blocks Boulder County Assault Weapons Ban
judge’s recent block of an assault-weapons ban in a Colorado county could be an early sign of a trend for local municipalities with similar laws.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charlotte Sweeney granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Boulder County’s enforcement of a ban on assault weapons after a lawsuit was filed by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a gun-rights advocacy group in Colorado. The Boulder County Board of County Commissioners approved the ban on August 2. It also prohibited AR-15 rifles from being manufactured or sold.
Adam Winker, a constitutional-law professor and gun-policy expert at UCLA, says this ruling is significant because “the constitutionality of assault-weapons bans is likely to be one of the next battlefields in the Second Amendment.” Referring to a recent Supreme Court case that expanded gun rights in New York, he explained that it “didn’t say anything explicit about assault-weapons bans. But the court did adopt a new test that will make it harder for assault-weapons bans to survive judicial scrutiny.”
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Although these two cases may seem to be different (the New York case dealt with handguns and self defense, while the Colorado case is focused on assault weapons), experts believe that the Supreme Court decision could have an impact on other gun laws.
“The court said that gun laws must be consistent with the gun laws of the 1800s. So given the historical context, it seems very possible that courts will strike down assault-weapons bans,” Winkler says, though he also points out that the courts have historically been split on assault-weapon bans.
Judge Sweeney mentioned the Supreme Court decision in her ruling as the reason she paused. “The Supreme Court has recently ruled that individuals have a constitutional right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home and New York’s licensing regime for public-carry licenses impermissibly interfered with that right,” the judge explained in her decision. “On this admittedly limited record and with a liberal analysis of this factor, the Court finds that Plaintiffs establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”
It was the second ban on a Colorado municipality enforcing an attack-weapons ban in as many months. Superior, Colo. judge issued a TRO in July that prohibited the city from enforcing gun restrictions. He also cited the New York case.
“The Supreme Court has basically made clear that it wants to see courts be more skeptical of gun laws, and do more to protect the Second Amendment,” Winkler says.
In response to the ruling in Boulder County, the city of Boulder said that this temporary ban will allow “more legal coordination among neighboring jurisdictions.” “This decision in no way demonstrates a lack of resolve by Boulder’s City Council or administration. We believe these bans are both necessary and legal,” city attorney Teresa Taylor Tate said in a statement.
The Boulder City Council adopted six gun-control measures in June. These laws are intended to decrease gun violence. These laws included the ban of assault weapons, large-capacity magazines, and raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18-21. The Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has also filed five Colorado lawsuits challenging these measures.
‘ANOTHER ONE DOWN,” Rocky Mountain Gun Owners tweeted about the Boulder County decision.
The judge’s pause will last for 14 days, while the proceedings in the case continue.
From 1994 to 2004, the federal assault weapon ban was in effect. It has not been renewed. Today there are only seven states—New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut and California–plus the District of Columbia that have laws banning assault weapons. Minnesota and Virginia have laws that regulate, but not ban assault weapons.
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Some people have doubted the effectiveness and safety of assault weapon bans. This summer at a Highland Park Fourth of July parade, an assault-weapons ban was in effect. A gunman shot and killed seven people, injuring many others. Since 2013, Highland Park has been prohibited from using assault weapons.
“It’s hard to know exactly how effective assault-weapons bans are. The laws are pretty easy to skirt,” Winkler says, adding that people can just buy a gun in another state, remove certain military characteristics by taking away the bayonet lug or a folding buttstock, or use a ghost gun so that it’s not violating whatever rules of the ban are in place.
Some experts in gun policy see the benefit of these bans both at local and national level. Louis Klarevas is the author of Rampage Nation: Protecting America from Mass ShootingsThe 10-year-old assault weapon ban was researched by the author and showed a marked decrease in mass shootings.
Joe Biden spoke in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday to express his intention of returning to a federal ban for assault weapons. “I did it once before and I’ll do it again,” he said.
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