The conservative firearms group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners filed a lawsuit Thursday in Denver District Court challenging Colorado’s red-flag law.
At a press conference in the Colorado Capitol, the group’s executive director, Dudley Brown, was joined by House Minority Leader Patrick Neville and several other House Republicans who claimed the state constitution was violated when their motions to have the red-flag bill read at length were denied in March.
“Democrats used illegal and unconstitutional tactics and methods,” Brown said.
A spokesman for Attorney General Phil Weiser said Thursday afternoon that his office will need to review the lawsuit before commenting on its merits. House Democrats disputed RMGO’s claims.
“This is not about what happened during the debate — this is about the gun lobby trying to unwind a popular measure to help save and protect lives in Colorado,” said House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, in a statement. “Throughout the entire debate, no one approached me about the issue they are raising in their lawsuit. We have been extremely respectful of the rights of the minority party and this bill was respectfully debated in the House.”
Gun rights supporters are not challenging the bill’s constitutionality, but rather the manner in which it passed the House. They made clear that future lawsuits may challenge the bill itself.
On March 1, Republican Rep. Dave Williams requested on the House floor that the bill be read at length but was told by Rep. Jovan Melton, the presiding Democrat, “that request was not properly moved.”
Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Greeley, then asked that the bill be read at length. Several clerks began reading different sections of the bill at the same time for several minutes. Humphrey returned to the House lectern and withdrew his motion, calling the reading “a cacophony” and “unintelligible.”
Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, later stepped to the lectern and asked that the bill be read at length. Melton told her, “That motion has already been done and will not be considered.”
Barry Arrington, an attorney for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, claims the denials of Williams and Saine were a violation of the state constitution, which says bill readings are required unless “dispensed with upon unanimous consent of the members present.” Arrington is asking a judge to strike down the entire red-flag law because, he says, it was unconstitutionally passed.
“We are pursuing another lawsuit in case this is not successful,” Brown said. “I also want to make perfectly clear that this does not stop any of the recalls that are now in progress. We are recalling up to nine House members and three senators and they’re all in the process right now.”
In March, a Denver District Court judge sided with Senate Republicans who had sued Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, for not reading a bill at length. Brown said he doesn’t know whether Thursday’s lawsuit will be heard by the same judge, but he hopes so.
On April 12, Gov. Jared Polis signed the red-flag legislation, House Bill 1177. After it takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, judges in Colorado will be able to temporarily remove firearms from people believed to be at high risk of harming themselves or others.
Supporters of the bill expect that will cut down on mass shootings and suicides, while critics consider it an unconstitutional gun grab. Its passage prompted about half of Colorado counties to declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries where the law will not be enforced.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, said this week that legal challenges to red-flag laws in the U.S. have failed and they expect that trend to continue. The laws ensure due process rights by requiring a hearing after guns are removed from a home, the group has said. In Colorado’s law, the hearing must occur within 14 days of a judge’s order.
“As more and more state lawmakers see the wisdom of extreme risk policies, in red and blue states alike, opponents of gun safety laws likely will continue to cloak their resistance in constitutional due process concerns,” Everytown said. “A strong body of judicial precedent, however, demonstrates that this resistance is without legal merit.”
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners’ latest lawsuit comes less than two weeks after the Colorado Supreme Court said it would consider the constitutionality of a high-capacity magazine ban. That case stems from a 2016 lawsuit by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and other firearm groups.
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