Colorado's Gun Laws Vs. Abortion Laws

The right to own a gun and the right to have an abortion are both constitutionally protected in America, yet the former seems so accessible while the latter is being stripped away, one admitting privilege, transvaginal ultrasound or waiting period at a time. Although Friday's shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, certainly raises questions about gun laws in Colorado, it also forces us to look at those in relation to abortion rights. Why is there a national maelstrom over protecting gun rights every time there's a mass shooting, yet the government considers a shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood or a gridlock over a human trafficking bill?

Colorado is an interesting case where both gun rights and abortion rights are equally as loose. When it comes to abortion, Colorado has minimal restrictions: the state prohibits Medicaid funds from covering abortion in most cases, and parental notification is needed for every minor obtaining an abortion. The state does not have any mandatory waiting periods or ultrasound laws, nor does it have admitting privileges or ambulatory surgical centers mandates. There are also no restrictions on abortions through medication.

Abortion clinics are not necessarily well distributed throughout Colorado, but the state is not experiencing a crippling lack of access like states across the South and Midwest. In 2011, there were 42 abortion clinics in Colorado, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Most of the clinics were located in or around Denver, the state capital and city with the highest population. Nearly 80 percent of counties in Colorado had no abortion clinic, but only 28 percent of women lived in these counties.

Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains currently operates 21 clinics in Colorado, 12 of which provide abortion services. The Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs was one of the clinics that offered abortion services.

Colorado gun laws are also considerably lax. Residents there don't need a state permit to purchase either a handgun or long gun, and firearms don't need to be registered with the state. Gun owners also don't need a permit to open carry, except in Denver. Until recently, Colorado didn't have a limit on magazine capacity, but following the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, the state passed legislation prohibiting magazines with more than 15 rounds.

It would seem, then, that abortion rights and gun rights in Colorado are pretty equal — and yet, a constitutionally protected clinic became a place of violence on Friday. Authorities have not given a motive for the shooting, but Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said on Saturday that people can make "inferences [about the motive] from where it took place," the Associated Press reported.

As U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote in his opinion last year striking down Alabama's admitting privileges law, which threatened to close most of the state's abortion clinics, gun rights and abortion rights have more in common with each other than many anti-abortion gun enthusiasts would believe.

"[T]he court was struck by a parallel in some respects between the right of women to decide to terminate a pregnancy and the right of the individual to keep and bear firearms," Thompson wrote. "At its core, each protected right is held by the individual: the right to decide to have an abortion and the right to have and use firearms for self-defense."

Thompson continued:

In the context of both rights, the Supreme Court recognizes that some regulation of the protected activity is appropriate, but that other regulation may tread too heavily on the right. ... This court, as a trial court, should not be in the business of picking and choosing which Supreme Court-recognized right to enforce or in deciding whether to enforce a right strongly or only somewhat, based on this court’s independent assessment of the legal or moral wisdom behind the acknowledgment of that right.

On both gun rights and abortion rights, a line must be drawn somewhere. Yet the line seems to be drawn too heavily on the abortion rights side; the right to an abortion and the right to own a gun, as it stands now, is lopsided.