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August 12, 2021 11:02 AM UTC

Colorado's Red Flag Law Works--Spread The Word, Please

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  • by: Colorado Pols
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams (R-MGO).

Colorado Public Radio’s Allison Sherry reports on new data released about the implementation of Colorado’s landmark “red flag” law, which allows family and law enforcement to obtain an emergency court order temporarily removing guns from persons at risk of committing violence–a law broadly supported by the public overall but controversial among gun-rights supporters.

Attorney General Phil Weiser says the law is working extremely well at both protecting the public and weeding out unwarranted complaints, with the only real problem being:

State Attorney General Phil Weiser said Colorado’s red flag law isn’t being used enough.

The vast majority of Colorado’s red-flag petitions filed in the first year were by law enforcement officers against people threatening mass shootings, suicide and intimate partner violence, according to a report issued Wednesday by the state Department of Law.

In 2020, the first full year of implementation of the law, 100 petitions were filed. Of those, courts issued 66 temporary orders and 49 orders that lasted 364 days.

Colorado’s red flag law, passed by lawmakers in 2019, allows a judge to issue an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” that bans someone from possessing firearms for up to 364 days if a judge finds that person poses a significant risk of hurting themselves or others.

Colorado’s Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law was passed in 2019, accompanied by the usual warnings from the gun lobby and Republican lawmakers in their thrall that the law would lead to outlandish consequences such as mass gun confiscation based on gun owners’ political leanings–despite the fact that other states had implemented similar laws without anything crazy like that taking place. An early misuse of the ERPO law in 2020 by a woman whose son had been shot by law enforcement and filed her request against the cop in question was seized on by then-GOP House Minority Leader Patrick Neville as evidence it could be abused, but her complaint fell apart as quickly as it came together in an early successful test of the law’s checks and balances.

“It’s noteworthy in cases where people were seeking to remove weapons from responsible gun owners … were stopped in their tracks,” Weiser said.

The biggest issue with the law based on the first year of its existence appears to be spreading awareness of its existence, not with the due process it affords or any other problem with the law’s implementation. If more families were aware that they could petition a court to temporarily disarm someone who is a threat to themselves or others, more lives could be saved. As for Colorado’s elected county sheriffs, some of whom like Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams have declared they won’t enforce a red flag order in their county? The case that could cast their recalcitrance in unbearable relief–where their refusal to enforce an ERPO order results in preventable death–hasn’t happened yet, or if it has it hasn’t made headlines. Such an event could indeed raise awareness about the law, but at a price no one should want to see paid.

What we can say is that for every life saved by the “red flag” law, there are more who could have been.

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