By Calvin Thompson | Colorado Watchdog
DENVER — Last month, with news that a raft of post-Newtown gun laws was moving through the state legislature, Colorado gun accessories-maker Magpul Industries had a message for lawmakers.
Passage of the bills “will do nothing to enhance public safety, but will force us to immediately begin taking our business to another state,” Richard Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of Magpul said in a Feb 15 press release.
The company’s warning that it would would leave the state — and take 600 jobs with it — made headlines. But it didn’t nudge state lawmakers, who debated and then passed the laws over the course of early March.
Fitzpatrick isn’t backing down. And his company has a prediction that hasn’t made headlines: the bills, which Gov. Hickenlooper signed into law on March 20, will ultimately prove unenforceable.
“Beyond the public policy deliberations related to HB 1224, there are significant legal defects and enforcement issues surrounding HB 1224,” wrote Magpul’s attorney, Jonathon Anderson.
Magpul’s not alone. Earlier this year, County Sheriffs of Colorado published a paper on the pending legislation, declaring that all the existing gun control initiatives were unconstitutional.
Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County took the most aggressive stand, saying his department simply will not enforce the new laws.
“It’s a horrible bill,” he told Watchdog.org. “Who’s the government to tell how many rounds people need for self-defense?”
Cooke says he has received word that about 40 of Colorado’s 62 sheriffs will follow his defiance of policy.
Anderson’s March 15 open letter to Hickenlooper asked him to reject the bill not only because it is bad policy, but because it is legally questionable, vague and impractical.
By far the most controversial change, House Bill 1224 mandates a ban on new magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition, along with several other legal changes. According to Anderson, HB 1224 does not only ban magazines which hold over 15 rounds, but any which can be converted to do so. This means that almost any existing magazine could be banned, thanks to the removable floor plate design, a feature almost universal in firearm magazines.
“The simple fact is that virtually every magazine on the market has an open floorplate, and that design makes every magazine readily convertible,” Anderson wrote in his letter. “As a result, nearly every magazine can be converted to exceed the capacity limit set by HB 1224, including those for many bolt action hunting rifles and common handguns.”
This issue is further complicated by the wording of the law, which states that it is unlawful to purchase magazines “designed to be readily converted.” According to the open letter, this wording indicates that Colorado residents will have to determine the intent of magazine manufacturers, an unrealistically subjective expectation.
“Some officials will read the bill literally and make their own determination what magazines are designed to be readily converted,” Anderson wrote.
Despite the warning, Gov. Hickenlooper signed all three bills into law. In addition to HB 1224, HB 1229 calls for background checks on all firearm sales and transfers, even with gun shows and private sales. The closely related HB 1228 requires a fee for such background checks.
Colorado’s borders with many pro-gun states make the laws practically unenforceable anyway. Colorado residents could just go Wyoming or Arizona, said Cooke, the Weld County Sheriff. In each of those states, they could buy and sell guns privately and without background checks, without ever violating the law.
These states also have no magazine restrictions, and so residents could purchase magazines and bring them back to Colorado. HB 1224 makes an allowance for magazines already purchased, and Cooke said law enforcement will have no way of knowing which magazines were purchased after the law’s enactment from other states.
That sentiment is echoed in a recent National Institute for Justice memo, which states that any magazine ban with grandfathering provisions would take decades to have any effect.
Ultimately, Cooke said that even disregarding the new bills’ unenforceability and terrible policy, most law enforcement will ignore them because they have better things to do with their time.
“My priorities are not making law abiding citizens into criminals,” he said.
Now that the bills are passed, there may also be consequences for the Colorado economy as well as gun owners.
“Our company could not, in good conscience, continue to manufacture our products in a state where law-abiding citizens are prohibited from purchasing and owning them,” Fitzpatrick said in the press release.
Magpul executives have kept expressing their intent to move into another state. The Wyoming legislature even circulated a resolution to invite the company to settle there.
The Magpul press release states that such a move will cost Colorado 600 jobs. Even though Magpul only employs about 200, many distributors and suppliers also rely on the company for livelihood, and Magpul estimates that it brings over $85 million annually to the Colorado economy.
“Make no doubt about it,” Fitzpatrick said. “We have no choice, and would be forced to leave in order to save the business.”
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