2023 Leg Session, Civil Liberties, Dave Kopel, Featured, Gold Dome, Local Gun Rights, Original Report, Sherrie Peif

New Colorado laws create confusion, conflict over making unserialized guns legal

DENVER — One of five gun-rights restricting bills passed this last legislative session is causing more questions than answers, as owners of what are now illegal firearms, as well as federally licensed gun dealers (FFLs) struggle to understand and comply with Senate Bill 23-279, titled “Unserialized Firearms and Firearm Components.”

A second bill, Senate Bill 23-168, “Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Judicial System,” only exacerbates the problems with SB 279, FFLs say.

SB 279 bans the sale, possession, transfer, or manufacturing of homemade, or hobbyist firearms that do not contain a serial number (often pejoratively referred to as ‘ghost guns’).  The bill gives some exceptions, such as guns that are permanently inoperable, are antiques, or were manufactured before Oct. 22, 1968.

Violations range from a misdemeanor on first offense to a felony on subsequent offenses.

Confusion and conflict

The confusion lies in a section of the bill that purports to allow owners to get their firearms serialized prior to Jan. 1, 2024, to maintain ownership. However, finding someone to do that is going to be next to impossible, despite lawmakers’ claim that “any FFL” is able to do so.

That’s where the questions begin and the answers are complicated or incomplete. Problems with the new law include no designated authority over the serialization techniques and processes and a second law could hold FFLs liable for crimes committed with any guns they serialize.

Spokespersons for both the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Denver Field Division for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said their agencies have no authority to offer guidance or recommendations to gun owners or FFLs concerning the new state law.

Crystal McCoy, Public Information Officer for ATF in Denver, said they can only answer questions as they pertain to federal law and that her agency had no jurisdiction over the new requirements in Colorado, and the ATF will not get involved in the matter.

First, the new law states that any FFL is able to serialize unserialized firearms. However, Complete Colorado contacted more than three dozen FFLs from all areas of the state, and not one said they were either able or willing to do so and cited many reasons, including not owning the proper equipment.

None were willing to be identified because of potential liabilities with the new laws and their concern for their federal licenses.

Although some FFLs said they could not legally serialize a firearm without a very specific license, known as a Type 7 (or manufacturers) license, McCoy said under federal law that is not true. She said any FFL regardless of license type is legally able to serialize a firearm, but they are not required to do so unless they take the firearm into their possession, such as for a transfer.

Because of that, all FFLs contacted said they will not facilitate the transfer of unserialized firearms.

Gun dealers don’t want the liability

But the main concern from FFLs coincides with a second law passed in Colorado in 2023 that allows victims of gun violence in Colorado to sue certain “firearm industry members” for up to five years following the incident. SB 168, defines a “firearm industry member” as anyone who is engaged in the “manufacture, distribution, importation, marketing or wholesale or retail sale of a firearm product.”

Under that law, victims can hold those firearm industry members liable in civil court for “harms caused by negligent entrustment of firearm industry products, consistent with any limitations or immunities otherwise provided in state or federal law.”

All the FFLs contacted said serializing a firearm makes them a manufacturer and liable under the new law. Although that may be debatable, the regulations surrounding serializing a firearm — as well as other conflicts with the new Colorado law —  leave so many questions and room for mistakes that FFLs say they simply will not take that chance.

For example, SB 279 requires: “a serial number beginning with the dealer’s or licensee’s abbreviated federal firearms license number, which is the first three and last five digits of the license number, followed by a hyphen, before a unique identification number. the serial number must not be duplicated on any other firearm, frame, or receiver serialized by the licensee, and must be imprinted in a manner that complies with the requirements in federal law for imprinting a serial number on a firearm, including the minimum size and depth of the serial number and that the serial number is not susceptible to being readily obliterated, altered, or removed.”

However, federal law requires much more in-depth marking requirements, including manufacturers’ names, country of origin, model designations, caliber or gauge, importer, and city and state of the importer. Furthermore, serial numbers for firearms under federal law are generated by ATF, not the gun dealer, causing a direct conflict with any number an FFL could assign under the new Colorado law.

FFLs who spoke to Complete Colorado on the promise of anonymity said the two processes are in conflict, constituting a transfer under federal law that could jeopardize their license, as well as possibly making them liable under SB 168.

Flawed bills make bad laws

Taylor Rhodes, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, (RMGO) said this is what happens when you rush bills through in the final two weeks of the session.

“When we were going through all their stakeholder meetings on this, it was in one ear and out the other,” Rhodes said. “You can tell them all this, but they don’t listen. All they listen to is Giffords.”

Rhodes was referring to Giffords Law Center, which works closely with Mom’s Demand Action and Colorado Cease Fire, two radical activist organizations that have actively pushed most of the gun restriction legislation and local resolutions across Colorado.

RMGO has filed lawsuits already against two other Colorado laws passed this session — raising the legal age to buy a long gun from 18 to 21 and implementing a three-day waiting period before a gun could be purchased. Rhodes said it is RMGO’s intent to legally challenge SB 279 as well because of all its last-minute problems.

David Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute* and an attorney who specializes in the Second Amendment said he has no doubt legislators knew exactly what they were doing when they passed this law.

“This bill was brought forward by lobbies with malice against gun owners and with no regard for the ability of people to comply with these impossible demands,” Kopel said.

*Independence Institute is the publisher of Complete Colorado


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