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Colorado sheriffs sue to block new gun-control laws

A man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual m
A man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual m

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A group of Colorado county sheriffs, angry about two new state gun control laws passed in the wake of last year's mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado, filed a federal lawsuit on Friday seeking to block the laws from going into effect.

The two laws, passed by the state's Democratic-controlled legislature with scant Republican support, ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds and require background checks for all private gun sales and transfers.

All but 10 of the state's 64 county sheriffs signed on to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver. In their complaint, the sheriffs allege the new laws, which go into effect July 1, severely restrict citizens' constitutional right to own and bear arms.

The sheriffs, who in Colorado are elected, also complained that they were operating under tight budgets and did not have the money or manpower to enforce the new laws.

"They (the sheriffs) cannot expend these resources to conduct investigations that would be necessary to monitor compliance," the lawsuit said.

The bills were introduced in response to a shooting spree that killed 12 people at a suburban Denver movie theater last July and the slaying of 20 children and six adults at an elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.

Connecticut and New York also have passed stricter gun laws in the wake of the shootings. The National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, has announced plans to challenge the new gun control laws in all three states.

REASONABLE SAFETY MEASURES

Democratic state Senator Mary Hodge, who sponsored the magazine-limit bill, blasted the sheriffs and said the restrictions were reasonable public-safety measures.

"We can't just sit by and do nothing while first-graders and moviegoers are being mowed down in one fell swoop with weapons equipped with large-capacity magazines," Hodge said in a statement.

Joining the sheriffs in the lawsuit are a number of gun-rights organizations and a disabled gun owners group, who say that magazine limits would restrict their ability to defend themselves in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination against the disabled.

"Disabilities make it difficult to quickly change magazines under the stress of a home invasion," the lawsuit said.

Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who signed the bills into law, is named as the defendant in the lawsuit. His office had no immediate comment.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, said in a statement that his role "will be to get court rulings on the legality of various aspects of the legislation as expeditiously as possible."

"Colorado citizens, and law-abiding gun owners in particular, deserve such clarification," said Suthers, who did not publicly oppose the two bills when they were debated in the legislature.

Separately, a Colorado pro-gun group, the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, said it was circulating a petition to recall the president of the state Senate, Democrat John Morse, because of his support for gun control measures.

Morse, a former police officer, said he would likely face a recall election later this year as a result.

"If they are successful in removing the Senate president in Colorado, it will have a chilling effect on anyone who takes them on but if they fail they will be exposed for the paper tiger they should be," he said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Philip Barbara and Bill Trott)

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