Colorado Raising Gun Purchase Age To 21 Likely Unconstitutional, UW Law Prof Says

A new Colorado law raising the legal age to purchase a firearm in that state from 18 to 21 has already been blocked by a federal judge, and will likely be proven unconstitutional, a Wyoming gun law expert said.

Mark Heinz

August 11, 20235 min read

A collection of firearms for sale at Rocky Mountain Gun Trader in Cheyenne.
A collection of firearms for sale at Rocky Mountain Gun Trader in Cheyenne. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

A new Colorado law raising the legal age to buy a firearm in that state from 18 to 21 has already been blocked by a federal judge, and will likely be proven unconstitutional, a Wyoming gun law expert said.

“I think a ban on 18- to 20-year-olds purchasing, keeping or using firearms is unconstitutional,” University of Wyoming law professor George Mocsary told Cowboy State Daily. He’s the director of UW’s Firearms Research Center.

The law wasn’t in effect long enough to make any real difference before it was hit with an injunction, a Colorado legislator who opposed the law told Cowboy State Daily.

Even so, it’s another example of continuing tensions over gun rights between Colorado’s mostly rural West Slope populations and its Front Range metropolitan population, said Colorado state Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta.

“Raising the legal purchasing age from 18 to 21 was done under the guise of preventing teen suicides,” he said.

No Rush For The State Line

Meanwhile, there apparently wasn’t any rush over the Wyoming state line by younger Coloradoans looking to buy firearms before they lost the chance in their home state, a Wyoming gun dealer told Cowboy State Daily.

There was some grumbling about the pending new law from Colorado customers, said Cameron Howsare, who sells firearms in the sporting goods department at the Cheyenne Murdoch’s store.

But saving money seems to be the primary reason folks come north from Colorado to buy guns, he said, adding that, “They’re more about the firearms prices. The prices are way better here than they are there.”

Even with the judge’s injunction, Wyoming gun shops as of Monday aren’t selling to Colorado residents ages 18-20 because of the law.

Although there’s an injunction against the law, folks at Rocky Mountain Gun Trader in Cheyenne say they’re not taking a chance and won’t sell firearms to Colorado residents unless they’re 21 or older, said manager Mike Rigg.

Even so, the sentiment in the shop Monday morning was one of disappointed disbelief over the law.

“We can send young men and women off to die at 17½ all over the world, but not sell to them,” Rigg said. In Colorado, “they want to criminalize an entire spectrum and take away that right.”

Nodding approval was Brian, a retired military customer who declined to give his last name, adding that firearms aren’t America’s problem with guns.

“It’s not the gun, it’s the nut behind the gun,” he said.

Blocked Out Of The Gate

Colorado Senate Bill 23-169, which raised the legal firearms purchasing age to 21 across the state, was in effect for only a matter of hours on Monday before it was blocked, Soper said. So it hasn’t really affected younger Colorado gun enthusiasts, at least not yet.

U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer issued a preliminary injunction against the law, following a legal challenge by the firearms rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

Soper said that gives him hope.

“Of course, it will ultimately be up to the courts to decide whether it (the new law) is unconstitutional. But I believe this injunction will become a permanent injunction,” he said.

Mocsary agreed, saying the new Colorado law isn’t likely to stand against a challenge based upon Second Amendment rights for people ages 18-20. The precedent for allowing Americans age 18 and older to legally buy and use firearms goes all the way back to the formation of militias during the Colonial period.

Soper said the Colorado law was poorly based on measures implemented in Alabama and Kentucky more than a century ago. Those laws raised the legal purchasing age to 21, but they applied only to specific regions and not the entire states, he said.

He added that he thinks it is hypocritical for the government to try telling 18-year-olds that they’re old enough to fight in wars, but not old enough to buy their own firearms.

“If you can serve your nation and go to war at age 18, you should certainly be able to purchase a firearm to protect yourself and your family at age 18,” he said.

Colorado’s Gun Rights Battle Continues

Many of Colorado’s gun legislation has been prompted by a number of high-profile mass shootings in that state.

Soper said he expects disagreements over gun rights between Colorado’s urban and rural populations to continue.

By way of another example, he said that a bill that would have restricted shooting on the basis of noise was killed during the latest session of the Colorado Legislature.

It stemmed from a complaint from a resident in a sparsely populated are near Boulder, Colorado, that their neighbors’ target shooting was creating a noise disturbance, he said.

“That was the only victory Republicans had in regard to firearms rights during the last session,” he said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter