DENVER – A day after President Trump voiced support for red flag laws across the country as means to address a rash of mass shootings and gun violence, the sponsors of the law passed this year in Colorado encouraged other states to act, but opponents of Colorado’s law have not changed their minds.
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” Trump said Monday. “That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed Colorado’s “red flag” extreme risk protection order into law in April, and it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Colorado’s law is called the Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act and is named after Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish, who was killed on New Year’s Eve 2017 in a shooting by a person experiencing a mental health crisis and who was known to own weapons.
The law will allow a judge to order that a person’s firearms be confiscated if they are deemed a risk to themselves or others. The request for a protection order would come from law enforcement or family members. A judge could place a temporary order for up to two weeks on the person until it is decided at a hearing whether a full protection order is necessary. A full protection order could be approved for up to 364 days.
One of the main supporters of the measure was Parrish’s sheriff, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock. Attorney General Phil Weiser also supported the measure. The bill was sponsored by Democrats and received zero votes from Republicans as it made its way through the legislature this spring.
Two of those sponsors – House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial – said in statements Tuesday that other states should look at Colorado’s law as a model if they wish to pursue similar legislation. Sullivan’s son, Alex, was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.
“We are glad to hear that there is increasing bipartisan support at the federal level for red flag laws. Here in Colorado we passed an Extreme Risk Protection Order law, a commonsense approach that is shown to save lives and prevent tragedies,” Garnett and Sullivan said in a joint statement. “We encourage other states to look to Colorado’s legislation as a model that increases public safety while protecting due process rights. The federal proposal is a good step but there is much more they must do to protect our communities from the scourge of gun violence.”
The District of Columbia and 17 states have already implemented red flag laws, and Ohio’s governor proposed a red flag law this week after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27 other people in Dayton on Sunday morning, though it’s unclear which states’ model lawmakers there might follow.
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said that any Ohio law would have to have strong due process protections – something Colorado Democrats claim is the case with their bill but which opponents say is not the case.
"These conditions must, because the Constitution demands it, be balanced against individual's right to keep and bear arms and their due process rights," DeWine said.
Colorado’s red flag bill has been a flashpoint between political parties for months. This year’s passage of the law came a year after the 2018 red flag bill was killed by Senate Republicans, who lost control of the Senate in the 2018 election.
Zero Republicans voted in favor of this year’s measure, and some conservative groups have initiated recall efforts against Polis, Sullivan and another of the bill’s sponsors – Sen. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood – in part because of the passage of the law. The effort against Sullivan has already been dropped, however, and proponents had to pull their first petition against Pettersen.
The group aiming to recall Polis will have to gather more than 631,000 valid signatures by Sept. 6 if it hopes to get a recall question on a statewide ballot. And the woman aiming to recall Pettersen will have to gather 18,376 valid signatures from Senate District 22 by Sept. 16.
A spokesperson for the Recall Polis effort told Denver7 she would not release the number of signatures the campaign had collected so far and said they planned on collecting signatures until the Sept. 6 deadline.
But many of Colorado’s county sheriffs or county boards of commissioners have tried to pass local laws to get around the measure by declaring themselves either a “safe constitutional county” or a “Second Amendment sanctuary county.”
Few have been as outspoken about their opposition to the state’s red flag law as Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, who said earlier this year he would rather go to jail than enforce the law.
On Monday, after Trump’s comments in support of red flag laws, Reams told Denver7 his viewed hadn’t changed despite what the president said.
“Not all red flag laws are the same and the ‘due process’ aspect of Colorado’s version is something that still doesn’t appear to follow the constitution,” Reams claimed, though Weiser and the lawmakers behind the bill say they are confident in the law.
Reams added that he thought it would be “very premature” to assume that a red flag law would have stopped the mass shootings in Dayton or El Paso, though reports show the Dayton suspect had a history of threatening people.
“I’m all for solutions that have a true way of preventing violence but I do not believe that red flag laws are the answer, especially Colorado’s version,” Reams told Denver7. “I believe that this is a topic that takes a multi-faceted approach to have any success and has to be tied very strongly to mental health resources being made available in our communities.”
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners is challenging Colorado’s law in court. Director Dudley Brown told our partners at The Denver Post: “You cannot infringe on the gun rights of millions of law-abiding Americans based on the actions of lawless madmen.”
But Sullivan and Garnett were confident in response to the president’s words, though it would be up to Congress to pass a measure encouraging more states to adopt ERPOs.
“Colorado is grieving with El Paso and Dayton after the tragedies this weekend,” they said. “Colorado knows far too well the pain of mass shootings and the trauma that they inflict on victims and communities. It is time to take action to stop these senseless, deadly attacks.”