Colorado sheriffs say they'll go to jail rather than enforce controversial 'red flag' gun control law

Colorado sheriffs say they'll go to jail rather than enforce controversial 'red flag' gun control law
Image credit: United States Congress
News & Politics

Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a controversial new gun control bill into law on Friday. You might first remember Polis because the recently elected governor is both the first openly gay governor and first Jewish governor in the state. But this new measure, sometimes known as a “red flag” law, didn’t come easily, and in fact, came after about two months of legislative hearings and debates.

We’ll break it down in more detail below, but the basic idea is that this law, effective Jan. 1, 2020, will allow law enforcement, family members, and roommates to appeal for an individual's firearms to temporarily be removed, for their own protection and general public safety. CNN reports that fourteen other states (plus D.C.) have passed similar legislation.

It’s probably no surprise that Republicans opposed the bill from the start, on the grounds that they interpret it as a threat to the Second Amendment. Some opponents of the bill worry, for example, that false accusations will lead to their guns being taken away.

On the other hand, however, some progressives also have mixed feelings about the “Extreme Risk Protection Order” take. Why? Statistics show that people with mental illnesses are way more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence.

It’s also important to point out that media coverage and cultural dialogue can vary widely depending on the race or ethnicity of the shooter in question. For example, while a person of color may quickly be described as a terrorist, a white shooter may be described as mentally ill.

Polis, however, isn’t under the impression this law will prevent every shooting. He sees it as a stepping stone in the right direction.

“This law will not prevent every shooting, but it can be used in a targeted way to make sure that those who are suffering from a mental health crisis are able to temporarily have a court order in place that helps make sure they don’t harm themselves or others,” Polis said on Friday, as first reported by The Denver Post. “Today we may be saving the life of your nephew, your niece, your grandchild.”

Now for some background specific to Colorado. Two years ago, a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy was killed by a gunman who was, as reported by The Denver Post, “in the middle of a mental health crisis.” This situation in part inspired the bill, which was called the “Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act.”

Today, roughly half of the counties in the state are calling themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” (Yes, really.) As reported by CNN, sheriffs across the state have declared that they’d rather go to jail than enforce this new legislation. Their argument is they believe it is unconstitutional.

So how does this law function in practice? Family members, as well as law enforcement officials, will have the chance to request a protection order for a person’s firearms to be confiscated. The idea is that if the individual in question is a risk to other people or themselves, a judge can grant this order temporarily, to alleviate risk in the short-term. This temporary protection order could last about two weeks, at which point a judge would decide at a hearing if the protection order should be extended for up to one year.

During this process, the responsibility is basically on the gun-owner to prove they are not a risk.

Again, a lot of Republicans feel that this is an attempt to steal people’s Second Amendment rights. It’s somewhat surprising that this moved along in Colorado; a similar bill was rejected last year in the Senate, for example. The difference here is likely that Democrats have taken control back in the state Senate, and in spite of the controversy, pushed the measure along to Polis.

See also: Why midterms really do matter!!

On a serious note, if you (or someone you know) may be struggling with mental health issues, or just wants some support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted person and/or mental health professional. Here’s a roundup of free resources you can access right from your home or computer.

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