DENVER – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Colorado sheriffs suing the state over new firearm restrictions don't have standing to proceed with the case as a group, but the legal battle is far from over.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger in Denver doesn't stop the lawsuit because 21 other plaintiffs who are suing do have standing. The court will still consider whether universal background checks and a ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds are constitutional, the judge said.
"At this juncture, the court is not even considering whether the challenged portions of the laws are constitutional," Krieger said.
Sheriffs in most of Colorado's 64 counties filed the lawsuit in May, saying the new regulations violate the Second Amendment. The sheriffs are elected and represent rural, gun-friendly parts of the state.
In her ruling, Krieger said sheriffs can still choose to join the suit in an individual capacity, and they'll have 14 days to make that decision. But they cannot, as a group, sue the state in their official capacities.
"If individual sheriffs wish to protect individual rights or interests they may do so ... however, the sheriffs have confused their individual rights and interests with those of the county sheriff's office," Krieger said.
The remaining plaintiffs include individuals and various gun groups.
The laws that took effect July 1 were among a package of gun control legislation passed in response to mass shootings last year at a suburban Denver movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school.
The laws sparked a furor from gun rights activists and Republican lawmakers who unanimously opposed the legislation. The laws also prompted the successful recall of two Democratic state senators in September, and a third senator resigned Wednesday while signatures to force another recall were still being collected.
Krieger also ruled in favor of part of the technical guidance that the state offered to implement the law when it comes to what it means for a magazine to be "readily convertible." The guidance outlined that magazines that have removable baseplates won't be considered part of ban and won't be seen as being adaptable to hold more rounds than what the law allows.
Other technical guidance the state offered can still be challenged, Krieger ruled.
"We are pleased that the court recognized that many of the plaintiffs had no standing to bring this case and that our interpretation of the law is proper," said Carolyn Tyler, a spokeswoman with the Colorado attorney general's office, which is representing the state in the lawsuit.
"We hope to have the important constitutional question that remains resolved quickly and properly," Tyler said.
Richard Westfall, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said he was heartened that the judge will allow the sheriffs to participate in the lawsuit as individuals if they want.
He also said he hopes the laws can still be overturned.
"The two laws are still subject to being challenged on constitutional grounds," Westfall said.