Two new Colorado gun regulations went into effect July 1st, a response from lawmakers to last year's mass shootings at an Aurora movie theater and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
House Bills 1224 and 1229 together ban high-capacity magazines, and call for background checks on all gun transfers in the state. Which may sound simple, but for some gun dealers and law enforcement officials, the bills’ wording is proving difficult to understand, and their ability to even be enforced is being questioned.
Tim Gonzales is the owner and operator of Backcountry Goods Trading in Hotchkiss. He spends a lot of time keeping up to date with changing gun regulations, and he says the new laws won’t really affect him when it comes to background checks; he already performs them on every weapon he sells. The high capacity ban, however, will take some of his products off the shelf, though he's not sure to what extent.
In addition to banning magazines built to hold over 15 rounds, a section of HB 1224 makes it illegal to possess any device that can be “readily converted” to hold more than 15. Gonzales says that language is a bit vague, and leaves him confused about what exactly is now illegal to sell.
"Almost every semiautomatic gun that has ever been made, has been made so it can be disassembled, cleaned, maintained, so that it's a safer, more effective gun," Gonzales says. "But because it's been able to be disassembled, you can also add an extension to it, so that means that most semiautomatic guns may possibly be considered illegal after Monday."
Michael Knechs, owner of European Target Shooting Supplies, exports guns from his shop in Hotchkiss to countries like Norway, Finland and the UK. His business is mostly international, and he says the high-capacity ban could affect about 30% of his sales, most of which are aimed at sports shooters who tend to favor large magazines.
"Technically with these new laws, we can't even be sent magazines over 15 rounds or firearms that have that kind of magazine in it. In terms of our international sales, that's going to encroach quite a bit there, because a lot of countries around the world do not have restrictions on capacity of the magazine."
Since most of his guns come directly from wholesalers and then get transferred overseas, he’s hoping to get an exemption from the state, but says he hasn't had a lot of cooperation with that effort so far.
Like Gonzales, Knechs ays the state’s left it up to him to figure out the laws’ nuances. Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee agrees.
"We're a little bit disappointed because they are very confusing statutes, with not a lot of guidance in how they should be enforced, or even if they're really enforceable."
McKee is one of more than 50 Colorado sheriffs who filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming the new laws violate Second Amendment rights. The suit remains in the motion stage, with a court hearing set for early July. In the meantime, enforcement isn’t likely to proceed quickly.
"Exactly how we're going to enforce them, or even if, is still in the air," says McKee. "We haven't put out any guidelines for our deputies, so probably if we saw something we were concerned about we'd get in contact with the District Attorney and find out maybe how they wanted us to proceed."
Knechs put it more frankly.
"I don't think that local law enforcement around here really, in all honesty, care."
As dealers like Knechs and Gonzales begin the process of adapting to the new laws, one thing remains clear: public opposition is hardly settled. Some 5,000 people attend a “Farewell to Arms” event in Glendale on Saturday, where firearms dealer Magpul gave away nearly 1,500 thirty-round magazines. Magpul has announced plans to leave the state, a move Gonazales has considered as well.
"Our family and our business has looked to possibly even moving to Texas, where the gun laws are more friendly, and we can actually run a successful business there."