Colorado has joined states that allow a court to issue extreme risk protection orders related to firearms.
Gov. Jared Polis on Friday signed into law the so-called “red flag bill,” which establishes a court process to prevent those who are deemed a significant risk to themselves or others from having firearms.
Polis and other backers see the new law as a way to save lives, but local sheriffs who previously expressed opposition remain leery of the measure, although they stopped short of refusing outright to enforce it.
“It’s an attack on our Second Amendment rights,” Montrose County Sheriff Gene Lillard said Friday. “It’s just a chip-away at it, is what it is.”
Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor said he will have to wait and see the first extreme risk protection order to come across his desk, before he could say what he would do.
“I’ve said all along that I couldn’t answer that question now, and I can’t answer it until I see the order,” Taylor said, and Lillard also said he was waiting to see specific orders, if any.
“I’m reluctant, but I will obey a court order and what a judge says. If we as a society deem it is unconstitutional, I would not enforce it,” he said, reiterating he would review orders case-by-case.
“I don’t know what to expect. I see both sides. I don’t want to see mass shootings. ... Once again, I think mental health is an issue. I think we need to address those people that are having a mental health crisis, early on, and often.”
The new law, which goes into effect next year, allows family members or law enforcement to petition the courts for an emergency order that removes firearms from the control of people who, through a preponderance of evidence, are shown to pose a significant risk to themselves or others.
Petitioners have to swear out an affidavit and can be prosecuted for perjury if they lie; additionally, those who falsely or maliciously misuse the process are subject to prosecution as well as civil liability.
Upon receiving a petition for an extreme risk order, the courts must hold a hearing that same day, or the next soonest day the court is open.
After an initial order, the court has two weeks to set a second hearing to determine whether continuing the protection order is justified.
If it is, the subject of the order cannot have a firearm for the next 364 days; these must be surrendered to law enforcement, a federally licensed firearms dealer, or in certain situations, to a family member who does not live with the person.
The subject of the order can ask once during the 364-day period for a hearing to terminate the protection order.
“Colorado has endured more than our fair share of tragedies,” Polis said, during a Friday signing ceremony. The intersection of mental health and rights can present challenges when sheriffs have to enforce orders of involuntary commitment, which are already allowed under law, he said.
But after people were released from involuntary commitments — an up to 72-hour hold — many retained access to weapons, Polis said.
The bar for involuntarily commitment is high; so too, is the bar for an extreme risk protection order, he said.
“These kinds of issues, when it comes to our rights, mental health and safety, these aren’t partisan issues,” the governor said.
“This law will not prevent every shooting, but it can be used in a targeted way to make sure those who are suffering from a mental health crisis are able to temporarily have a court order in place that helps ensure they don’t harm themselves or others.”
Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting, helped sponsor the bill. He’s counted 351 Fridays since that day.
“I know how this is going to save lives. Being the parent of a murdered child, everything is stunted, everything is tempered,” Sullivan said.
Senate sponsor Lois Court said “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. “It is not enough to say we’re sorry. That is why we have this bill,” she said.
Lillard, Taylor and other lawmen in the 7th Judicial District, as well as Montrose Rep. Marc Catlin, have spoken against the bill over due process concerns.
Montrose and Delta counties have also passed resolutions opposing the measure.
Montrose County’s sought a veto, along with better funding for mental health resources. By passing the resolution, Montrose County commissioners weren’t stating they wouldn’t follow the law, or representing that the sheriff wouldn’t, the county attorney said previously.
Taylor had hoped Polis would take time to meet with sheriffs across the state, who were both for and against the red flag bill, but that did not occur.
“We’re sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of Colorado. I can’t speculate on what I will or will not do until I see that first order,” he said.
Lillard said the 72-hour mental health hold process is sufficient and even after the red flag bill goes into effect, it won’t necessarily keep at-risk people from accessing weapons. He also said more could be done to tighten up background investigations when it comes to selling guns.
“I don’t know if we’ll see a large amount of that (extreme risk orders) happening. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen,” Lillard said.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.