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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Gun control goes on trial in Colorado this morning. Opponents are suing in federal court against the state's gun control laws. These are laws instituting universal background checks, as well as a ban on high capacity magazines. The laws were passed after mass shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and an elementary school in Connecticut.

From Colorado Public Radio, Ben Markus reports.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: Tom Sullivan never thought much about guns or gun control. That is, until his son was killed in the Aurora theater shooting. The gunman wielded a rifle with a 100-round magazine. Sullivan is convinced that if Colorado's ban on high-capacity magazines had been in effect, his son Alex may have had a chance.

TOM SULLIVAN: It was one second, and the next second he was dead, and that was because of the high capacity magazines.

MARKUS: After the Aurora shooting, Sullivan turned to activism. He successfully lobbied for stricter background checks for all private gun sales and also for a ban on magazines holding more than 15 rounds. The measures were instantly controversial.

SHERIFF JOHN COOKE: Well the problem is, who is the government to tell a citizen how many rounds they need to defend themselves?

MARKUS: That's Weld County Sheriff John Cooke. He joined a group of rural sheriffs suing the state to overturn the laws Sullivan worked so hard on. The sheriffs argue, among other things, they violate the Second Amendment. Cooke says the gun control measures were arbitrary, knee jerk reactions by city politicians unfamiliar with guns.

COOKE: Even if it tramples on people's rights, and it tramples on our heritage, we got to do something, just to, you know, make it look like we're doing something. Because otherwise, you know, we're not doing anything.

MARKUS: And Cooke isn't alone in questioning whether a ban on high-capacity magazines would stop a rampaging shooter.

RICH WYATT: OK. So ready? Stop me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLIP DROPPING TO FLOOR, ANOTHER BEING LOADED)

MARKUS: That's Rich Wyatt, manager of the Gunsmoke gun store in Wheat Ridge - who in the blink of an eye dropped a clip out of his gun and seamlessly pulled another from his belt and loaded it. It's clear that he's practiced this.

WYATT: Now I did it in slow motion so you could see it. If I did it at full speed, you'd have to have x-ray vision eyes to be able to tell.

MARKUS: Perhaps the only thing you won't find in Wyatt's gun store are high-capacity magazines. Though he says step into any gun owner's home and you'll surely find one.

WYATT: They're completely common. They're everywhere, everybody has them. It's not something that can ever be controlled, even if you ban them.

MARKUS: And Wyatt says universal background checks will never stop someone determined to get a gun. These laws, to him, violate the rights of the majority of law-abiding citizens for the crimes of a few.

WYATT: It's not Western, it's not American, it's not right for this country or for this state.

MARKUS: Still, gun control proponents such as former state Senator John Morse say the laws are reasonable, and will save lives. Morse lost his job in a recall election because of his role in passing gun control.

JOHN MORSE: Colorado is safer from gun violence for what we did; it was absolutely the right thing to do.

MARKUS: If he sounds confident it's because several courts outside of Colorado have upheld magazine restrictions and background checks. Seven other states limit magazines and five others have universal background checks. But no matter the outcome in court, voters may get their say. Several groups are pushing for a statewide ballot measure that would overturn the laws.

Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the Aurora theater shooting says if the laws are overturned he has no problem pressuring lawmakers in Denver to do something again.

SULLIVAN: I said, you know, I'm not going to have - I'm not going to be able to watch my son age, year after year, which fathers normally do, but by God, I'll come down here and I'll watch you people age year after year if you feel the need to bring these up year after year.

MARKUS: The trial is expected to last two weeks. And no matter the outcome both sides will likely appeal.

INSKEEP: Ben Markus on NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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