By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered a lower court judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging gun control laws approved by Colorado in the wake of a movie theater massacre in a Denver suburb, saying the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the case.
The measures, which passed the Colorado legislature and were signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in 2013 were considered a victory by gun-control activists in a state where gun ownership is treasured.
The legislation was prompted by the July 2012 shooting rampage at a midnight shooting of a "Batman" movie in Aurora that killed 12 people and the slaying later that year of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut.
The laws, which banned ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds and required universal background checks for gun buyers, prompted a fierce backlash from critics that led to voters recalling two key Democratic members of the state legislature.
The lawsuit, brought against Hickenlooper by county sheriffs, gun shops, outfitters and shooting ranges, claimed that the laws severely restricted Coloradans' rights to own and bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
After a nine-day trial, a federal judge found in favor of the governor, saying no evidence had been produced by the plaintiffs which showed that their rights to gun ownership would be infringed by the laws.
The plaintiffs appealed to a three-member panel of the 10th Circuit, which wrote in a 33-page ruling that despite the significance of the underlying issues at stake, the plaintiffs had no standing to even bring their lawsuit because they had not demonstrated that they would be personally harmed by the laws.
The panel ordered the lower-court judge to dismiss the action for "lack of jurisdiction."
"We feel that we made some strong arguments that this law can inadvertently make a farmer a criminal," said John Dooley, a spokesman for the Colorado Farm Bureau, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case. "Firearms are integral to farming and ranching, from protecting our livestock and crops to also defending our life and property in some cases."
Press deputies for Hickenlooper could not immediately be reached for comment on the ruling.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Andrew Hay)