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Colorado 'red flag' gun bill gets first hearing of session

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Posted at 2:14 PM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 16:14:08-05

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Democrats launched another attempt Thursday to get a "red flag" gun law on the books — an effort backed by law enforcement officials to allow the seizure of weapons from persons deemed by a court to pose a significant risk to themselves or to others.

Florida passed its own "red flag" law after the February 2017 Parkland school massacre, and 12 other states have done so. Colorado Republicans defeated a similar bill last year, insisting it infringed on citizens' Second Amendment rights. But Democrats won both statehouse chambers in November, and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis called for a "red flag" law while campaigning last year.

This year's bill was being heard Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee. It would allow family or law enforcement to seek a court order to have guns seized if they believe the owner is a threat. If approved, a subsequent court hearing would be held to determine whether to extend the seizure, up to 364 days.

The bill also would leave it up to the person whose guns were seized to prove at any point that he or she no longer poses a risk.

"This is the first step to move forward on a solution that is geared at trying to help people in crisis and confront the epidemic of gun violence that's had a significant impact on the state of Colorado," said House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a co-sponsor along with first-term Rep. Tom Sullivan.

Sullivan's son, Alex, was killed while celebrating his 27th birthday in the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting.

"Watching your child's body drop into the ground is as bad as it gets," Sullivan told a news conference last week. "And I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that none of you have to do that."

A number of law enforcement officials support the effort, including Tony Spurlock, sheriff of suburban Douglas County, who lost a deputy in a New Year's Eve 2017 shooting by a suspect who was exhibiting increasingly erratic behavior. The bill is named after the deputy, Zachari Parrish.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle also supports the bill. His son was wounded in the shooting that killed Parrish.

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, says the bill would discourage citizens from seeking help because of the "stigma" associated with mental illness.

"No one should feel they have to choose between their guns and getting the help they need," Neville said in a statement.

The bill is backed by numerous gun control groups, including one founded by former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was severely wounded in 2011 shooting, and survivors of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Gun rights are a perennial issue at Colorado's Capitol. Lawmakers approved a ban on high-capacity magazines and added background checks for firearm transfers in 2013 following the Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings. Gun rights groups pushed successful recalls against two Democratic state senators who voted for the bills.