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Colorado Gun Control Laws

To gun control advocates, recent enactments by the Colorado legislature will decrease gun violence and improve public safety. The nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety ranks Colorado eleventh in the U.S. in its gun law rankings. Colorado recently passed new laws that increase the minimum age to buy a handgun to 21, require a three-day waiting period for a background check after a firearm purchase, and place restrictions on the production and use of ghost guns in the state.

Still, getting a handle on Colorado gun laws can be tricky, especially when states and the federal government have separate and sometimes overlapping statutes. As in other states, gun owners must navigate a patchwork of federal and state laws to understand their rights and stay within the law. In today's legal climate, new prohibitions and regulations become the subject of lawsuits in short order. For example, Colorado gun rights advocates have challenged all three new laws passed in 2023.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes protection for citizens' individual right to own guns for self-defense in the home. In 2022, the Supreme Court held in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen that citizens also have a right to possess guns in public for self-defense. As a result, most gun control legislation faces substantial scrutiny by both lawmakers and the courts.

Colorado gun owners remain subject to key federal laws that address the purchase, sale, possession, and use of firearms. For example, the Gun Control Act of 1968, as amended, continues to guide the regulatory scheme for legal manufacturing, transfer, ownership, and possession of firearms. It contains a baseline list of prohibited persons barred from ownership or possession. 

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act took effect in 1994. It expanded the list of persons banned from firearm possession. It was also instrumental in setting up a federal system of background checks for gun purchases to prevent sales to felons and other prohibited persons.

Even under the Second Amendment, states can regulate the purchase and use of certain weapons and accessories. Sawed-off shotguns and silencers, for example, are illegal under Colorado's gun control laws. 

Colorado does not have an assault weapons ban. However, it did enact a limitation on large-capacity magazines, which are ammunition-feeding devices that can enable rapid-fire, inflicting more fatalities. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld Colorado's law in Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Polis (2020), holding that under the state constitution, the limit on large-capacity magazines had a reasonable basis that did not unduly prevent gun owners from exercising their rights.

Colorado requires near-universal background checks for firearm purchases. Background checks must occur for sales or transfers through all firearms dealers, including private sales. However, certain temporary transfers, gifts, and loans between family members will fall outside the requirements. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation provides information to the public on questions about background checks and state and federal prohibitions.

In 2021, Colorado also passed reforms to its state law that preempted local jurisdictions from enacting their own stricter gun control regulations. Under this reform, localities like Denver and Boulder County can pass certain restrictions to open carry and concealed carry, and can also ban assault weapons. 

In 2022, Gov. Jared Polis signed the Vote Without Fear Act, a law that prohibits open carry of firearms within 100 feet of a polling location, ballot drop box, or vote-counting facility during times of an election. In 2023, the state also expanded its red flag law, allowing more persons to file for an extreme risk protection order to prevent access to guns for those at risk of harm to themselves or others.

Overview Of Colorado Gun Control Laws

For more information on Colorado's gun control laws, consult the chart below.

Relevant Statutes (Laws)

Illegal Arms

Colorado classifies dangerous weapons as illegal in Colorado. Dangerous weapons include:
  • Firearm silencers
  • Machine guns
  • Machine gun conversion devices
  • Short rifle/short shotguns
Colorado also classifies defaced firearms as illegal. Defaced firearms include the following:
  • Guns with serial numbers or identifying marks altered, defaced, destroyed, or removed, except by normal wear and tear
With limited exceptions, Colorado also bans the use of large capacity magazines (LCM) which are greater than 15 rounds.

Waiting Period

There is a 3-day waiting period to purchase a firearm in Colorado.

Who May Not Own

You are prohibited from owning a firearm if you:
  • Are a minor as determined by state law
  • Have a previous conviction of:
    • A felony
    • An attempt to commit or conspiracy to commit a felony
    • A crime punishable for more than a year
  • Have been convicted of a misdemeanor or a crime of domestic violence
  • Are subject to a domestic violence, criminal extreme risk, or certain other protection orders
  • Have been committed to a mental institution or have been adjudicated to be "mentally defective"
  • Are unlawfully in the U.S. or admitted under a non-immigrant visa
  • Are a fugitive from the law
  • Are an unlawful user or addict of a controlled substance
  • Have been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Have renounced your U.S. citizenship

License Required?

Colorado doesn't require gun owners or purchasers to obtain a permit or license.

Concealed Carry License Required?

  • Residents: You need a license to carry a concealed firearm in public.
  • Non-Residents: You can carry a concealed firearm if you have a license from your home state and your home state and Colorado have a reciprocity agreement.

Open Carried Allowed?

Yes. The state allows for the open carrying of firearms. Local governments may, however, enact regulations prohibiting open carry in areas that are within the local government's jurisdiction.

Eligibility for a Concealed Carry License

You can get a concealed carry license from your local sheriff if:
  • You are 21 years of age or older
  • You are a legal resident of Colorado
  • You are eligible to have a firearm under federal and state laws
  • You completed a gun safety course
  • You are not a chronic abuser or addicted to alcohol or other controlled substance
  • You have never been convicted of perjury or deliberately failed to disclose information on a concealed carry application
  • You are not subject to a protection order

Machine Gun Laws

Machine guns are prohibited in Colorado unless you have a valid permit to possess a machine gun.

Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession

  • Possession of a Dangerous Weapon: This is a class 5 felony punishable by one to three years in prison and/or a fine of $1,000-$100,000.
  • Possession of a Defaced Firearm: This is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. (Note: a second conviction may enhance to a class 5 felony)
  • Unlawfully Carrying a Concealed Weapon: This is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. (Note: a second conviction may enhance to a class 5 felony)
  • Unlawful Purchase of Firearms: This is a class 4 felony punishable by two to six years in prison and/or a fine of $2,000-$500,000.
  • Possession by a Previous Offender: This is a class 5 felony punishable by one to three years in prison and/or a fine of $1,000-$100,000.

Penalties for Illegal Possession on or Near School Grounds

 This is a class 5 felony punishable by one to three years in prison and/or a fine of $1,000-$100,000.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts including federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of the state law(s) you are reviewing.

Colorado Gun Control Laws: Related Resources

More Questions About Gun Rights? An Attorney Can Help

Gun laws at both the state and federal levels can change from both legislative activity and court cases. This uncertainty can be unsettling for gun owners, especially in light of the penalties for violations. The best way to stay on top of current gun laws and to protect yourself against criminal charges is to seek legal advice. Consider speaking with an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney today.

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