Beginning in January, Colorado judges will have the power to temporarily remove firearms from people believed to be at high risk of harming themselves or others, as the state joins more than a dozen others that now have some type of red-flag bill on the books.
Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 1177 on Friday at the state Capitol, after nearly two months of contentious legislative hearings marked by a familiar partisan divide over the issue of gun control.
Proponents of the extreme risk protection order bill say it could prove instrumental in reducing the likelihood of another mass shooting while at the same time cutting down on the number of suicides in Colorado. Second Amendment backers say the law runs the risk of depriving Coloradans of their constitutional right to bear arms when it takes effect Jan. 1.
“This law will not prevent every shooting, but it can be used in a targeted way,” Polis said Friday. “Today we may be saving the life of your nephew, your niece, your grandchild.”
Controversy over the bill is not going to end with its signing into law. About half the counties in the state have passed resolutions declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuary counties,” in which they discourage their judges and sheriffs from issuing and carrying out orders to seize weapons.
And the specter of recall elections targeted at certain lawmakers who voted in favor of HB 1177 is real. In 2013, two Democratic state senators were recalled after they voted in favor of gun control legislation while a third Democratic colleague, Evie Hudak, resigned to avoid an ouster election.
The red-flag bill is one of the signature pieces of legislation that Democrats at the state Capitol pledged to pursue after the party won a majority in the Senate in a blue wave last November, giving the party control of both chambers and the governor’s office. A similar bill was defeated last year.
Sen. Lois Court, a Democrat who supported the red-flag bill, expressed exasperation at the mass shootings that have taken place in Colorado.
“I’m sick and tired of all the tragedies gun violence causes in our state,” she said Friday. “It’s not enough to say we’re sorry. That’s not good enough. That’s not good enough for Colorado.”
While many law enforcement officials have come out against the bill, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock and Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle back the measure, which is named after one of Spurlock’s deputies who died in 2017 when he tried to negotiate with a man in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Former U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh also supports the extreme risk protection order bill. He called the bill constitutional and written in a way that he believes protects people’s right to due process.
However, 18th District Attorney George Brauchler opposes the bill after supporting the 2018 version.
The law signed Friday will let law enforcement, a family member or a household member ask a judge to temporarily remove a person’s firearms. The judge would hold a hearing — without the gun owner being present — to decide whether to grant that order for up to 14 days.
During those two weeks, all the parties would have to appear before the judge, who would then determine whether the firearms should be kept for up to 364 days. The burden of proof is on the gun owner to prove they should be returned — the provision that Brauchler said prompted his opposition.
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