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March 21, 2013
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Hoy: Gun laws need 'clarification'

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Add Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy to the list of state law enforcement officials who say three new gun-control laws are "unenforceable."

The state's sheriffs' organization issued a statement to that effect while the bills were under discussion in the Colorado Legislature. But the chorus has grown louder since Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday signed the bills into law.

The problem, Hoy said, is the details of the bills, which limit the capacity of ammunition magazines, and expand the state's background check system.

Those background checks - which now apply to sales at gun shows and from stores and Internet retailers - have been expanded to include private sales, which are currently exempt, and remain so in most of the rest of the country. Hoy said he doesn't see how local law enforcement can keep track of those sales.

"Say you and I are friends and I have a pistol you like," Hoy said. "If you want to buy it and I agree to sell it to you, unless you go through the background check, the only way to know it hadn't gone through is if (the pistol) is used to commit a crime."

Unless a crime is committed with the gun, Hoy said he can't see any other way someone might be charged with violating the new law.

The law that limits magazine capacity is equally tricky, Hoy said.

The new law exempts magazines that are already owned, but the law bans the sale, or even transfer, of those magazines. New magazines - limited to a 15-round capacity under the new law - are supposed to be stamped with the date of manufacture and a serial number, ostensibly to make tracking possible.

But existing magazines are neither dated nor numbered - no manufacturer does it. Hoy acknowledged that there's really no way law enforcement can determine if a magazine purchased in another state is new, or if it's been grandfathered in by the law.

Hoy said if an officer notices a pistol with a magazine of more than 15 rounds in a holster on the front seat of a car that's been pulled over for a traffic violation, there's no way an officer can determine if the magazine is, or isn't, legal.

Then there's the matter of just what defines a "transfer."

Hoy said he was watching a TV news program in which three people handed an ammunition magazine to each other.

"They said that was three violations of the law right there," Hoy said. "There's going to have to be some clarification on these laws."

Matte Solomon owns Alpine Arms, a gun shop in Eagle. Solomon holds a Federal Firearms License, and is authorized to run background checks and handle retail transactions, both in his store and through internet sites including www.gunbroker.com.

Solomon has been a vocal opponent of the new laws - although he said his store will "absolutely" comply with them - and pointed out what seems like an inconsistency in the new state ammunition-magazine law.

Solomon said he can't sell a firearm with a magazine that holds more than 15 rounds to a full-time state resident. But, he said, he can sell a rifle with a 30-round magazine - standard capacity on rifles such as the AR-15 - to someone who owns a home in Vail but whose permanent address is in a state that allows those magazines.

Solomon said he's been talking to his suppliers about shipping new firearms to him with two magazines - one that complies with Colorado law and another that's legal in most other states.

With all that in mind, Hoy said it's unlikely his officers will write up any violations, comparing the new gun laws to Eagle County's anti-smoking ordinance of several years ago.

"We've never written a ticket on that one, and we never will," Hoy said.

The situation adds up to an almost-certain legal challenge to the bills, Hoy said.

"We're just waiting for the first lawsuit," he said. "If it isn't filed in the next week or so I'll be surprised."

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 21, 2013 11:43PM Published Mar 21, 2013 11:41PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.