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Dividing Colorado

It could be called the rule of surprising consequences.  On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, accompanied by an assortment of weapons, burst into the Sandy Hook school in Watertown, Connecticut and killed 20 children and staff.  Following the tragedy the Connecticut legislature took steps to lessen the likelihood that such an event would repeat itself.  On April 3, 2013, with bi-partisan support, the Connecticut legislature passed Senate Bill No. 1160, entitled: “An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety.”  Under the terms of the bill, certain guns can no longer be sold in that state.  Included among them is the Bushmaster XM15, the type of AR-15 rifle that Adam used to kill.  It bans the sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.  (Adam had 10 magazines loaded with 300 rounds.  It only took 154 rounds plus one from a Glock pistol for him to kill 20 of his victims. When it was all said and done he would have had 146 left over for another day had he not killed himself instead.)

On April 4, 2013, Connecticut’s governor Dan Malloy signed the bill into law.  On April 11, 2013, PTR industries, a gun maker that manufactures, among other things, the now banned Bushmaster XM15, announced that it was leaving the state in protest over the new law.  In June 2013, the company moved its operation to South Carolina where there haven’t been any massacres that would cause that state’s residents to be nervous about guns.

On July 12, 2012, James Eagan Holmes went into a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of The Dark Night Rises.   Like Adam Lanza, James was armed with a variety of weapons that served him well.  He killed 12 people and wounded 70 others. The legislature and the governor responded.  In March 2013 two laws were passed that went into effect July 1, 2013.  The first requires universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers and requires gun buyers to pay for those checks. The second limits the size of gun magazines to no more than 15 rounds. Those laws were signed by Governor John Hickenlooper on March 20, 2013.  (Three other laws dealing with guns were signed by the governor in May 2013.)

The Colorado legislation was opposed by all the Republicans in the legislature.  Prior to passage of the bills, Magpul Industries, a firm that manufactures 30-round magazines and other firearm accessories, announced that if the gun legislation being considered by the state legislature were to pass, it would move its manufacturing facilities to a different state. As of this writing it has not announced a new location for its facilities but has indicated that it still plans to leave the state. HiViz Shooting Systems, a Colorado firearms company, has announced that it is moving to Laramie, Wyoming.

All of the foregoing notwithstanding, the most surprising consequence of the new law in Colorado has nothing to do with losing manufacturers.  It has to do with the state of Colorado losing counties.  Unlike the manufacturing companies, counties cannot pull up stakes and leave Colorado.  They are fixed geographically within that state.  The next best thing they can do, they hope, is secede from the state of Colorado. And that is what the county commissioners of Weld County, a rural county in northern Colorado, have proposed.  The commissioners are motivated not only by their dislike of what the Colorado legislature has done with respect to guns but with other legislation passed by the legislature affecting agriculture and oil and gas development.

The new state that the three elected county commissioners in Weld County, Colorado have proposed to create by secession is to be called North Colorado.  The commissioners have met with representatives from six other Colorado counties and those counties have expressed an interest in participating in the process.  The Weld County commissioners are Republicans.  Republicans are normally concerned about high costs of government.  Although the process of seceding will be expensive and substituting two states for one state will greatly increase the cost of governance, the commissioners are not worried about those expenses if they can have a separate state. And they may also be taking comfort in the thought that one expense no one will have to incur is the expense of redesigning the American flag.  That is because in early 2013, a petition bearing the signature of 125,746 Texans was sent to the White House seeking permission for Texas to secede from the union.  The request was turned down by the administration.  Given recent events in the Texas legislature the administration might want to reconsider.  Should that happen the flag would not have to be changed.  The star that used to represent Texas would now represent North Colorado, a nifty solution since North Colorado would presumably have the same political leanings as the state it replaced.

Christopher Brauchli is a lawyer living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

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