Massive Noncompliance, Little Enforcement For Colorado's Mag Ban

It’s been six years since the state of Colorado banned magazines that can hold more than 15-rounds of ammunition as part of a gun control package signed by then-governor John Hickenlooper that also included a “universal background check” bill. We know that background checks in Colorado haven’t haven’t increased since the law went into effect, but now 9 News in Denver has taken a look at the state’s magazine ban and found that it’s also being ignored by gun owners, gun stores, and law enforcement.

A gun owner contacted 9Wants to Know asking why gun stores were able to sell large-capacity magazines despite the state’s ban. A 9Wants to Know producer, wearing a hidden camera, went into 10 stores in six Front Range counties to find out what type of magazines were being sold.

In those visits, all of which occurred during business hours, employees at one store after another offered to sell a large-capacity magazine disassembled in parts.

Our undercover investigation found gun stores selling these “parts kits” in Arapahoe, Douglas, El Paso and Larimer counties. The kits are large-capacity magazines sold in pieces, ready to be assembled after they are purchased.

“This is a 30-round mag; we have to sell it as parts,” said the employee at Iron Horse Armory. “That’s one of Colorado’s retarded laws.”

So, because Colorado’s law didn’t ban magazine parts or parts kits, stores can still legally sell the unassembled magazines. That bothers the state legislator who sponsored the original magazine ban, because gun owners aren’t supposed to look for legal workarounds to bans on commonly owned magazines, apparently.

“I’m a little stunned by how open it is and how blatantly they’re saying, ‘You know, this is a stupid law, but this is the way you can get around it,’” [Rep. Rhonda] Fields said.

Fields sponsored House Bill 13-1224, banning the sale, transfer or possession of a large-capacity magazine, which was defined as holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition. However, a person can continue to have a large-capacity magazine if he or she owned it prior to July 1, 2013, and maintains continuous possession of the magazine.

“Seeing those businesses operating under a loophole that’s in our statute, is just sickening to me,” Fields said after seeing the undercover video shot inside Colorado gun stories in October.

Fields said this is not what she had in mind when she sponsored the bill.

“The whole goal, when I ran the bill in 2013, was to limit that capacity,” she said.

Finding ways to get around stupid laws has a long and storied tradition in this country, so I’m not sure why Fields is so stunned by the fact that people are doing what they can to stay within the law and purchase magazine kits. However, I’ll admit I was a little surprised to learn that some stores are just still selling the banned magazines outright.

Our investigation also found two gun stores, one in Weld County and another in El Paso County, selling the large-capacity magazines as though the law did not exist.

“We’re a sanctuary county, we don’t give a f—. We just sell everything as is, preassembled,” said an employee at Family Firearms Sales at 3882 Maizeland Road in Colorado Springs.

“We sell up to 60-round drums for the AR-15, 50-round drums for the .308 and the AR-10s, 75 rounds for the AK,” said an employee of Tacticool Arms at 928 13th St. in Greeley, the county seat for Weld County. “Our sheriff has openly stated he does not agree with the magazine ban, he believes it’s unconstitutional and will not enforce it.”

As it turns out, Sheriff Steve Reams hasn’t actually said that at all. While the sheriff has spoken out against “red flag” laws and said he won’t enforce them, he hasn’t said anything about the state’s magazine ban.

“I don’t know where that individual is getting his direction,” Reams said. “I would encourage people to understand the law and to understand how it applies to them. I do know who the owner is, so I’ll probably have a conversation with him and talk about business practices. You don’t want to put one of your potential customers in a situation where they could be in trouble with the law.”

Whether selling parts kits is against the law appears to be open to interpretation, but the gun store in Weld County told an undercover producer they sell the magazines outright.

“We’re not going out and making this a primary issue that we’re looking for in Weld County, but that doesn’t mean that this person (can’t) be picked up at any place at any time and have that magazine called into question,” Reams said.

As it turns out, no law enforcement agency in the state is making enforcement of the magazine ban a primary issue. Since the law went into effect back in 2013, there’ve been only a handful of cases brought by prosecutors around the state.

The law has mainly been used similarly to a seatbelt violation; not a primary violation. The large-capacity magazine ban has been used as a charge 128 times in six years. The majority of the time, the person was charged with another crime, such as a drug or traffic offense, and then the large-capacity magazine violation was included when a large-capacity magazine was discovered as part of the offense. There were at least three instances where the large-capacity magazine violation was the only charge.

In 12 of the 128 cases, the person was sentenced for having a magazine holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition.

Six of those cases resulted in time behind bars.

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams says the fact that the law is so widely ignored and so hard to enforce makes it worthy of repeal.

“That’s proof that you don’t need the law, and that’s been the proof since it was passed in 2013,” Reams said. “This law, while it made some people feel like, ‘Hey, we’ve addressed the situation in Colorado,’ it’s wholly ineffective, which your video shows.”

Ineffective and mostly unenforceable. You’d think that might lead supporters of the gun control law to reconsider their position, but instead, they seem to be digging in and preparing to “close loopholes” in the existing law. State Rep. Rhonda Fields wants lawmakers to revisit the issue in the next session of the legislature, but even if they do pass a revised version of the magazine ban, it’s going to continue to be nearly impossible for police and and prosecutors to build a case against those found in possession of the magazines, given the grandfather clause that requires law enforcement to prove that the mags were acquired after the ban went into effect.

Will Colorado lawmakers try a California or New Jersey-style magazine ban that demands gun owners hand over the magazines they currently own? That’s a distinct possibility, though it would almost certainly lead to a court challenge. We’ll see what sort of legislative “fixes”, if any, are introduced in the upcoming legislative session, but for now it’s clear that Colorado’s magazine ban has simply been a bust.