The conservative voices of rural communities like Montrose and Delta counties are grappling with, if not downright offended by, the Democratic-led Colorado Legislature. Proposals that circumvent the Electoral College, new oil and gas regulations and the very controversial “red flag” bill are being fast tracked to Governor Jared Polis’ desk.
Whether he will sign them is yet to be determined, but what we know is there is not much that Republican leadership at the State Capitol can do about it.
The red flag bill has drawn criticism from various county sheriffs including Montrose County Sheriff Gene Lillard and Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor. Taylor, who is typically soft spoken, had some strong words in a statement, calling the bill ridiculous. In a letter to state representatives, Taylor called the bill overreaching and without checks and balances, which could then be abused by both citizens and law enforcement. Both Lillard and Taylor called the bill an infringement on Second Amendment rights. Both sheriffs said the underlying issue is mental health and called for helping citizens with behavior health issues.
I believe the law is a direct risk to the safety of law enforcement. Let’s set aside the Second Amendment chatter for a moment. Even though, after the March 11 work session, the Montrose County commissioners directed staff to draw up a resolution declaring Montrose a Second Amendment sanctuary or preservation county, I’m not sure what this action can do to protect the sheriff’s department if this measure becomes law. Liability has to be a concern if not acting on a state law when a situation arises.
This is an emotional issue, and Montrose County Commissioner Roger Rash was a powder keg of emotion when he spoke at the work session.
“This bill is a farce in my opinion. It’s a true infringement. It’s a slippery slope. This bill is flawed. When are they going to address mental health? When are they going to fund mental health in our communities? When are they going to put a detox center here?” he asked. “When are they going to put a mental health facility here that have beds so we don’t have them in our jails before we can get them into a bed in Grand Junction over on the eastern slope? When is our state legislators going to get off of their dead duffs and sponsor something like that instead of taking away rights from an honest law abiding citizen. Take that to the governor. I don’t care.”
The Second Amendment is an emotional issue. I won’t downplay that fact. This type of law has gained momentum because of the lack of action prior to the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Investigations have shown that accused shooter — Nikolas Cruz — a former student had a decade’s worth of red flags that went ignored or weren’t acted upon.
The red-flag law basically works in this way:
Law enforcement or a family member requests the court to seize firearms from someone who is a risk to themselves or others. The judge would hold a hearing without the gun owner present. The judge then could decide to grant a temporary order for 14 days. During those 14 days both parties would tell the judge why or why not the guns should be returned. The judge could then extend the temporary order for 364 days. This would also preclude the gun owner from purchasing guns during the temporary order. The gun owner may petition the court as many times as he or she wants during the 364 days. It is up to the gun owner to prove he is not a risk. The judge would also have options to order mental health, drug and alcohol evaluations.
Sheriff Lillard is rightfully concerned about a situation escalating when his deputies show up to a home to confiscate firearms.
“It’s dangerous for law enforcement as far as us going to knock on a door saying we know you have guns and we know you’re suicidal. Can you just give us your guns?” Lillard said after the work session.
Lillard explained that law enforcement typically starts with a phone call to the person and requests a meeting at a neutral location.
“Law enforcement officers don’t go in and force our way into the situation where we actually force that person to then committing suicide either by themselves or by law enforcement,” Lillard said.
Montrose can look at its own history, when on a Saturday night in July of 2009, Montrose police Sgt. David Kinterknecht and other officers responded to the home of Dennis Gurney after a domestic disturbance call. Gurney had holed himself up in a shed. Officers were told he did not have a firearm and began entering the shed. Gurney fired on the officers killing Kinterknecht and injuring two other officers before killing himself.
These types of calls present a great risk to law enforcement and it isn’t a stretch to think these types of situations would happen more often if this bill were put into effect. In situations where a someone falsely accuses a gun owner of having mental health issues, attempting to remove the guns from them could turn a person from non-violent to violent.
The county commissioners’ work session provided emotional public comment. Gun ownership and any threat to gun ownership is a volatile discussion. The actual removal of guns by law enforcement by a court order could trigger a violent response.
This argument for or against this bill shouldn’t come down to who is the loudest but requires a deeper look into the risks of the bill. I was once told just because you’re loud it don’t make you right. Nothing could be truer when it comes to the gun debate.
Dennis Anderson is group publisher for Wick Communications, Alaska and Colorado. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.