Colorado state law allows residents aged 18 and older to own or possess legal firearms and ammunition unless they are otherwise prohibited from doing so.
To help you better understand Colorado’s gun laws, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. Who is prohibited from owning a gun in Colorado?
- 2. What are the consequences of unlawful gun possession?
- 3. What guns are legal in Colorado?
- 4. What guns are illegal in Colorado?
- 5. Where may I legally carry a gun in Colorado?
- 6. Who may legally obtain a Colorado permit to carry a concealed weapon?
- 7. Are ghost guns legal in Colorado?
- 8. Does Colorado have a red flag law?
- 9. List of related gun offenses
You may not legally possess or carry a gun in Colorado (even an otherwise legal one) if:
- You are subject to a protective order that prohibits gun possession;
- You are a fugitive from justice;
- You are an unlawful user of, or addicted to, any controlled substance;
- You have been adjudicated as a “mental defective” or have been committed to any mental institution;
- You are illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
- You have been admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa;
- You have been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
- You have renounced your U.S. citizenship; or
- Under the laws of any U.S. state or federal law, you have been convicted of or are under indictment for:
Note that would-be gun owners must pass a CO Bureau of Investigations (CBI) universal background check by a licensed firearms dealer in order to purchase a firearm. A licensed gun dealer is necessary even in private sales. But there is no mandatory waiting period when buying a gun.
Also note that you must be at least 18 years old to buy a rifle or shotgun and at least 21 years old to buy a handgun in Colorado. And anyone convicted of a violent misdemeanor within the last five years may not purchase a gun at all.
Finally, note that you do not have to register firearms that you buy. State law forbids firearm registries.1
See our related article, Do you have to register guns in Colorado?
Possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO) is a class 5 felony. POWPO penalties include:
- 1 to 3 years in Colorado State Prison, and/or
- $1,000 to $100,000 in fines.2
Legal firearms include:
- Handguns, pistols, revolvers, or other firearms with a barrel more than 12” in length (not counting any revolving, detachable, or magazine breech),
- Full-length rifles (long guns),
- Full-length shotguns,
- Antique firearms manufactured no later than 1898, and
- Firearms defined as curios or relics under U.S. law.3
People who are otherwise permitted to possess firearms may open carry these weapons in the state. (There are some locations where the concealed or open carrying of firearms is prohibited.)
Guns that are illegal to own include (but are not limited to) any gun or gun accessory that has been classified under federal or state law as a dangerous weapon, including:
- Armor-piercing ammunition,
- Firearm silencers,
- Machine guns,
- Short shotguns (those having a barrel or barrels less than eighteen inches long or an overall length of less than twenty-six inches),
- Short rifles (those with a barrel less than sixteen inches long or an overall length of less than twenty-six inches),
- Any defaced firearm (that is, one in which the manufacturer’s serial number, or other distinguishing number or identification mark, has been removed, defaced, altered, or destroyed, except by normal wear and tear), and
- Large capacity ammunition magazines (capable of holding more than 15 rounds), if purchased after July 1, 2013.4
However, you can possess certain short barreled shotguns (SBSs), short barreled rifles (SBRs), machine guns, and silencers if you obtain an NFA tax stamp.
Note that some cities like Denver ban the open carry of firearms. And Denver and Boulder have banned the possession of assault weapons. Localities may pass gun laws that are more restrictive than state law.5
Also note that the Colorado Supreme Court recently upheld a ban on large-capacity gun magazines. It is not a violation of rights to limit magazines to 15 rounds.6
State residents who may lawfully possess guns may carry:
- A lawful firearm in a private automobile / motor vehicle for the purpose of protecting their own or someone else’s property or self-defense while traveling;7
- A lawful firearm in their home or place of dwelling, private property, or a business they own; or
- A lawful concealed handgun, if:
- They are a current or retired state law enforcement officer or member of the military permanently stationed in Colorado;
- They hold, and have on their person, a current, valid Colorado permit to carry a concealed handgun; or
- They hold, and have on their person, a current, valid permit to carry a concealed handgun issued by a state that has reciprocity of concealed weapons laws with Colorado
Under the state’s carry laws, firearms are prohibited in public buildings with security checkpoints, such as courthouses. People may carry firearms in national forests in the state, but they must abide by federal regulations as well as state laws. People may not possess firearms on a snowmobile unless it is unloaded, in a case, or in a scabbard.
For a list of states with current concealed firearms reciprocity with Colorado, see the Colorado Bureau of Investigation Department of Public Safety’s page on Concealed Handgun Permit (CHP) Reciprocity.8
Colorado is a shall issue state for CCW permits. You can obtain a Colorado concealed carry permit if:
- You are a legal resident of the state of Colorado or you or an immediate family member is in the armed forces and is stationed pursuant to permanent duty station orders at a military installation in the state;
- You are twenty-one years of age or older;
- You are not ineligible to possess a firearm under state or federal law;
- You have not been convicted of perjury under CRS 18-8-503 in relation to information provided or deliberately omitted on a concealed carry permit application;
- You do not chronically and habitually use alcoholic beverages to the extent that your normal faculties are impaired (unless a licensed professional counselor or addiction counselor specializing in alcohol addiction confirms you are a recovering alcoholic who has refrained from using alcohol for at least three years);
- You are not an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance;
- You are not subject to a protection order that prohibits you from carrying a firearm; and
- You submit documentary proof of handgun competency, such as a safety course.
Non-residents usually cannot get Colorado CCW state permits unless they show good cause.
The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act allows qualified law enforcement agency officers and peace officers (current and retired) to carry concealed firearms even when state and local laws forbid concealed carry. (This amends the Gun Control Act of 1968.)
For more information on becoming a permittee to carry a concealed weapon, please see our article “How to Become a Permit Holder for Carrying a Concealed Handgun in Colorado”--CRS 18-12-203. You need to apply at your local sheriff’s office.
It is legal in Colorado to make, possess, or own ghost guns – handmade firearms without a serial number. People typically do this by ordering gun parts online to assemble whole guns or even 3D-printing guns using blueprints available online. But people must be licensed with the federal government in order to make a gun for the purpose of selling it.9
In light of recent gun violence and mass shootings, the Biden Administration has signaled through executive actions that it will be cracking down on ghost guns. In the near future, gun parts and kits may be treated as firearms with their own serial numbers. And people may need to pass a background check to purchase them.10
Yes. Colorado’s red flag law permits police, family members, or household members to ask a judge to issue an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) against a person deemed to be an “extreme risk” to others or themselves. ERPOs prohibit the person named in it (“respondent”) from possessing or buying guns.
To obtain an ERPO, the “petitioner” has to submit an affidavit to the court. The court will hold a temporary ERPO hearing the same day to determine whether a preponderance of the evidence shows that the respondent poses a significant risk by having guns.
If the court issues the temporary ERPO, it will hold another hearing within 14 days to determine whether clear and convincing evidence exists to continue the ERPO for another 364 days. The respondent at this hearing can have their own attorney or rely on a court-appointed attorney.
During the 364-day ERPO, the respondent can ask the court one time to terminate it. But the respondent bears the burden to show by clear and convincing evidence that they are no longer a threat to themselves or others.
The original petitioner can also ask the court to extend the 364-day ERPO. The petitioner would need to show by clear and convincing evidence that there is still a significant risk if the respondent has firearms.
If and when the ERPO expires, the police must return the respondents’ firearms within three days of the respondent requesting their return.11
Also see the Colorado Office of Gun Violence Protection.
In addition to laws against crimes that can be committed with a firearm (such as homicide, assault and robbery), Colorado has a number of offenses addressed specifically at guns.
Such laws include (but are not limited to):
- Unlawfully carrying a gun within 100 feet of a polling station or drop box — CRS 1-13-724 (“Vote without Fear Act”)
- Unlawfully carrying of firearms that are concealed — CRS 18–12–105
- Unlawfully carrying a weapon on school grounds — CRS 18–12–105.5
- Prohibited use of weapons — CRS 18–12–106
- Use of stun guns — CRS 18–12–106.5
- Illegal discharge of a firearm — CRS 18–12–107.5
- Possession of weapons by previous offenders — CRS 18–12–108
- Possession of handguns by juveniles — CRS 18–12–108.5
- Unlawfully providing or permitting a juvenile to possess a handgun — CRS 18–12–108.7
- Unlawful purchase of firearms — CRS 18–12–111
- Large-Capacity Magazines Prohibited — CRS 18–12–302
- Shooting from a public road — CRS 33-6-126
Note that Colorado law requires people to responsibly and securely store guns not in use in order to prevent access by unsupervised juveniles and other unauthorized users. Unlawful storage of a firearm is a class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 120 days in jail and/or up to $750 in fines.12
Also note that people have five days to report to police the loss of theft of a firearm. A first offense of failing to report is a civil infraction carrying $25 in fines. Successive violations are misdemeanors carrying up to $500.13
Finally, note that Colorado is a castle doctrine state. People may use deadly force if necessary to protect themselves inside of their homes.
Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
Arrested in California? See our California firearms laws article.
Arrested in Nevada? See our Nevada firearms laws article.
- CRS 24-33.5-424. CRS 29-11.7-102. (There is no more “gun show loophole” – which allowed background check-less sales at trade shows – or “Charleston loophole” – which allowed for gun sales without background checks if the check lasted longer than three days.) 27 CFR 478.11 defines “adjudicated a mental defective” to mean:
(a) A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease:
(1) Is a danger to himself or to others; or
(2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.
(b) The term shall include –
(1) A finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case; and
(2) Those persons found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to articles 50a and 72b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 850a, 876b.
- CRS 18-12-108. SB21-271.
- 27 CFR 478.11 defines curios or relics as:
Firearms which are of special interest to collectors by reason of some quality other than is associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons. To be recognized as curios or relics, firearms must fall within one of the following categories:
- See 18 U.S. Code 922.
- Robertson v. City & County of Denver, (1994) 874 P.2d 325; also see City and County of Denver v. State of Colorado, 03 CV 3809 (2003). Denver Municipal Code Sec. 38-118 & Sec. 38-121. Boulder Ordinance 8494. CRS 29-11.7-103.
- Colorado Supreme Court upholds the state’s ban on large capacity gun magazines passed after Aurora theater shooting, Baltimore Sun (June 29, 2020).
- CRS 18-12-105 (2).
- CRS 18-12-105.6.
- Gun Control Act of 1968 (18 U.S. Code § 921).
- Lauren Egan and Shannon Pettypie, Biden targets ‘ghost guns’ and ‘red flag’ laws in new gun control measures, NBC News (April 8, 2021).
- CO House Bill 1177 (2019).
- HB21-1106. CRS 18-12-114.
- HB21-078. CRS 18-12-113.