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'Let's start saving some lives': Colorado governor signs 'red flag' gun, mental health measure

Bill goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020
Posted: 1:40 PM, Apr 12, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-12 21:21:14-04
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DENVER – Surrounded by family members of people lost to gun violence and the lawmakers who successfully passed the measure in a hard-fought and multi-year battle, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Friday signed the “red flag” extreme risk protection order bill that he and proponents guaranteed will save lives in the Centennial State.

The Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act will officially go into law on Jan. 1, 2020, which is also the deadline law enforcement agencies statewide will have to adopt either model policies and procedures that are in the works or their own.

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.

“This law will not prevent every shooting, but it can be used in a targeted way to ensure those suffering from a mental health crisis … don’t harm themselves or others,” Polis said Friday. “Today, we may be saving the life of your nephew, your niece, or your grandchild. … We might also prevent shooting of additional deputies, or even mass shootings.”

Polis called the bill – sponsored by House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver; Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial; Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver; and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood – a “critical tool” to reduce gun violence and said the measure was in line with Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

Colorado will become at least the 15th state with an extreme risk protection order law on the books. Polis said Friday that he expected Colorado’s red flag law to be used about 100 or 150 times per year, as they have been in other states with similar laws. Polis said that be a “targeted approach” to enforcement.

And he brushed off, as the bill’s sponsors and supporters would also, the calls for recalls made by some Republicans and opponents of the measure, and claims that it was unconstitutional.

“These kind of issues, when it comes to our rights and mental health and safety, these aren’t partisan issues,” Polis said.

He thanked the bill’s sponsors, the families who had spoken up during the legislative process about their experiences with gun violence, and the law enforcement officers who have worked on the measure. Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who has been the most vocal law enforcement officer supporting the measure, and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle both spoke in favor of the bill’s signing Friday as well.

Spurlock discussed how supportive Parrish’s parents were of the measure, which Spurlock began pushing for last year after Parrish was shot and killed on New Year’s Eve 2017 by a man whom the department knew had a history of mental health issues and several weapons.

“For a father who lost his son to see it that way is inspiring to me and should be for everyone in the state of Colorado. Because his concern is for other people,” Spurlock said of Parrish’s father. “And when I had that conversation with him … I knew then that I was doing the right thing to stand for this. … As the governor said, we can save lives. We can save lives today, tomorrow and the next day. And, most importantly, if we save one life, we create history for that family.”

Sheriff Pelle’s son, Jeff, was also shot during the New Year’s Eve incident.

“Why would we not want to have this tool to help make weapons unavailable for this person until they are healthy,” he said in discussing the measure.

Pelle said he and Spurlock would be working with more than a dozen police chiefs and the attorney general’s office on creating the model policies and procedures regarding the acceptance, storage and return of firearms to people who have them taken away. Those model policies and procedures will have to be finalized by Dec. 1 of this year.

Pelle said those would “guide police agencies in the proper execution in stepping through this 30-page statute and doing it right.”

He said they were already looking at the policies in place in Washington state and California, among other states.

“This can be done safely. It can be done intelligently. We can have policies and procedures in place that guide us. And we can be patient, we can wait for the correct opportunities, and we can do this without putting our deputies and police officers at extreme harm, as well, if we do it correctly,” Pelle said.

Court said she was proud of the measure becoming law and said she had jumped at the opportunity to be a Senate cosponsor. She said she was “absolutely confident" the measure would save lives, adding: “That is the sole goal of this bill.”

“I want to do something. I don’t want to just have thoughts and prayers. I don’t want to just say, ‘We’re so sorry you lost your loved one.’ That’s not good enough,” Court added. “That’s not good enough for Colorado; that’s not good enough for the people who have had these tragedies happen to them and their families.”

Pettersen and Garnett thanked stakeholders for their yearslong work on gun violence bills and two years of working on the extreme risk protection order. But both lamented the lobbying against the measure, which they said was misguided.

More than 36 counties and towns or cities have passed resolutions as of Friday in opposition to the red flag measure or declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” in an effort to stave off the law . Most of the sheriffs or county commissions have passed such declarations or resolutions in protest, saying the measure is unconstitutional. Denver and Aurora’s police unions have also said they oppose the measure.

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams has said he will go to jail before he enforces the measure.

The Weld County Board of Commissioners issued a statement Friday sticking to the message that the bill is unconstitutional. It said it would be meeting with attorneys to conduct a legal review of the measure.

“With his signature, the Governor weakened our 2nd and 4th Amendment Rights, compromised our right to due process, and will force our sheriffs across the state to decide whether to uphold the United States Constitution or to turn their backs on the oath they took when accepting their elected position,” the board said in a statement. “As a Board, we stand in full support of our Weld County Sheriff as we believe this bill is bad law and does a disservice to the true issue needing the attention of state legislatures – mental health.”

But Pettersen said those calling the measure was illegal were wrong.

“It’s been pretty astounding to watch what the misinformation has been spread across Colorado,” Pettersen said. “Last year, we had a bipartisan bill that created a very high standard for due process. This bill actually has an even higher standard from last year. What has changed? An extreme gun lobbying that threatened my colleagues and friends across the aisle and is threatening my caucus to recall people who support such a measure. It’s unacceptable. We cannot let this win. We cannot let their process win.”

“In almost every other state, this has happened in a bipartisan way. And so despite all of the loud voices that have come up through legislative process, this law is constitutional,” Garnett said. “We are a state and a country that counts on officials to uphold the rule of law. And despite what those loud voices have said, I trust the view of … Attorney General Phil Weiser.”

Weiser has said that the declarations and resolutions coming from counties opposed to the measure “cannot and do not override a valid judicial order implementing state law.”

“We did it,” Garnett told Sullivan in an emotional exchange.

It was the 351st Friday since his son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting, Sullivan said.

“Believe me, I know how important this is. I know how this is going to save lives. And I know how hard everybody has worked these past 351 Fridays. But, quite frankly, as the parent of a murdered child, everything is stunted,” he said. “I’m not saying that I don’t laugh; I’m not saying that I don’t smile; but I just can’t do it with the same vigor that I was able to do it with before.”

“So as happy as I am that all of this has happened today, and knowing that this is going to save lives, and the state of Colorado will be better because of all of the work that we’ve all done, it’s difficult for me to just be able to grasp that and to be able to enjoy that,” he added.

But despite the pain, Sullivan said he was “elated” at the measure being signed into law despite his “struggle with the price that we paid to get where we are today.”

“Let’s get this signed and let’s start saving some lives,” he said.