For the second time in as many months, a federal judge has blocked a Colorado locality from enforcing an “assault weapon” and ammunition magazine ban ordinance.
U.S. District Judge Charlotte Sweeney, a Biden appointee, issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Tuesday against Boulder County. It stops enforcement of the county’s ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons, which include the popular AR-15, and ammunition magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds.
“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,” Judge Sweeney wrote, citing the Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen as justification for her analysis.
The TRO order marks the second indication of early success for gun rights advocates in the state since the Supreme Court handed down its landmark gun carry decision in June. Last month, an Obama-appointed District Court judge issued a TRO against the Town of Superior to block it from enforcing a similar ban following a lawsuit from the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO).
The group subsequently filed suits against the Cities of Boulder and Louisville, as well as Boulder County, to challenge similar laws passed as a collaborative effort by the localities. The continued success of gun-rights advocates in these suits could deter future efforts to enact stringent gun control at the local level in Colorado. The ruling also shows the new Bruen standard of review for gun suits may be bad news for other assault weapons bans across the country.
Tuesday’s restraining order arrived the same day RMGO and the Cities of Boulder, Superior, Louisville, and the County of Boulder reached an agreement to halt the enforcement of the bans and consolidate the cases against them.
“Further, counsel for Louisville, the City of Boulder, and Boulder County have represented that, in the event that consolidation is granted, they will agree to stay enforcement of their respective assault weapon and LCM bans pending resolution of the preliminary injunction motions, thereby negating both the need for any additional briefing on the TRO motions and for any additional judicial resources to be spent on that issue,” the motion reads. “Consolidation would avoid the inherent risk of inconsistent judgments that would be raised by the separate treatment of four nearly identical cases in the same federal district court.”
Tuesday’s restraining order will block Boulder County from enforcing the bans for 14 days while the parties to the case conduct further court proceedings. If the court grants the motion for consolidation, an injunction hearing will take place to consider permanently blocking the bans of all four jurisdictions.
RMGO cheered the restraining order.
“Another one down,” the group tweeted. “The Judge noted the ‘substantial likelihood’ of us winning on the merits when granting the TRO. There is HOPE!”
Boulder County officials, meanwhile, remained sanguine despite the TRO. Gloria Handyside, a spokesperson for the county, told The Reload that the county intended to defend its ordinance and the ordinances of the three other municipalities at the coming preliminary injunction hearing.
“At the hearing, the county will demonstrate that its assault weapons ordinance is constitutionally sound,” she said.
Gun control at the local level is a relatively recent phenomenon in Colorado. From 2003 to 2021, the state prohibited local governments from passing gun ordinances stricter than state law. Gun-rights advocates used that preemption statute to strike down a previous attempt by the City of Boulder to ban the possession and sale of AR-15s, Ak-47s, and similar rifles, as well as magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds in 2021.
After a mass shooting at a Boulder grocery store that summer, the Colorado General Assembly repealed the state’s preemption statute and replaced it with a standard that granted “local control” over gun legislation—provided it was not less restrictive than state law.
Since then, the City of Denver has been able to ban “ghost guns” and restrict which areas even licensed gun carriers can go. Additionally, four cities in Boulder County—Boulder, Louisville, Superior, and Lafayette—plus the county itself have all passed a broad array of gun restrictions that go far beyond what the state has imposed.
UPDATE 8-30-2022 6:55 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated to include comments from the Boulder County Board of Commissioners’ office.