COLORADO’S GOVERNOR, DEMOCRATIC LAWMAKERS WANT TO ALLOW JUDGES TO SEIZE GUNS FROM PEOPLE IN CRISIS. NOW THEY NEED GOP SUPPORT.

“Red flag” bills have passed in several states, including Florida, where the legislature is GOP-controlled

By: Jesse Paul and John Frank, The Denver Post

A series of recent fatal shootings in Colorado and nationwide is leading Gov. John Hickenlooper and state Democratic lawmakers to push for a red flag law” that would allow judges to temporarily seize guns from people they consider to be a threat. The late effort is part of a nationwide discussion about the intersection of mental health and the Second Amendment after the February massacre at a South Florida high school and the fatal shooting of a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy almost two months earlier — sparking what could be one of the largest policy pushes this year at the state Capitol.

Major firearm legislation has not been passed in Colorado since 2013, when two Democrats were recalled over their support for measures expanding background check requirements and outlawing high-capacity magazines.

“This is an appropriate step for states to take,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat who is among those leading the legislative effort. “I’m trying hard to create a Colorado solution that can be signed by the governor.”

Hickenlooper, a term-limited Democrat, supports a “red flag” law, but he is deferring to the General Assembly to draft a bill. Though if no action is taken, the governor acknowledged Thursday, he would consider executive action on the issue.

“We’ve always said that we want to make sure people’s civil rights are completely protected,” he said. “The goal is to get some sort of a collaborative compromise so that all parties feel that those civil rights are protected, and at the same time, we are doing a better job of making sure there is less risk to the community.”

The discussions at the Colorado Capitol are taking place behind the scenes, as lawmakers attempt to develop a proposal that can win bipartisan support in the split chambers. The prospect of such a bill has been circulating in the Capitol for weeks, mainly since the deadly February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

It’s unclear how the effort will be met by Republican lawmakers, who control the state Senate, despite support from some of the party’s candidates for governor and other GOP leaders across the nation. It also remains to be seen if there is enough time left in the legislative session that ends May 9 to debate and pass what could become a contentious bill, especially since specific policy points have not been seen by lawmakers.

“I would have to see language before I make any kind of commitment whatsoever,” said Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “I struggle with giving judges that type of authority.”

The legislation is expected to align with red flag laws in a handful of other states that allow family members and law enforcement officers to petition a judge to issue a protective order for the removal of firearms from people they consider a potential threat to themselves or others. More than 20 states are considering similar legislation, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy organization.

Garnett says he has been working on the issue since before the shooting in Parkland. His interest in legislation began after a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy was killed and several others wounded in late December by a man with documented mental health concerns.

“It would have protected that deputy in Douglas County,” Garnett said. “It could have been used in the Parkland shooting. It could have been used, likely, in the Aurora theater shooting.”

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, a candidate to replace Hickenlooper, said the conversations include the administration. “We are actually working right now on the red flag law itself, and even if we can’t get it through the legislature — and that could be political — we are looking at whether or not the administration can implement a red flag law,” she said Wednesday during a campaign debate.

Colorado Ceasefire, a group seeking stricter gun regulations, has for week been pushing constituents to urge their legislators to back a red flag bill, along with Mental Health Colorado, a leading advocacy organization.

“This is a matter of life or death,” said Andrew Romanoff, Mental Health Colorado’s president and a former Colorado House speaker. “Proposals are often described that way — this one actually deserves that description.”

In his mind, any legislation would be designed more to prevent suicides than to stop mass shootings. And he wants to keep the conversation from becoming just another vitriolic gun debate that divides the political parties at the Capitol.

“I know that because this debate involves the word ‘gun,’ it’s easy to make comparisons to past debates Colorado has had and the politics around those debates,” he said. “But if we want to take a more responsible view of this proposal, we would view it as a means to reduce the number of suicides.”

So far this session, Republican lawmakers have attempted — unsuccessfully — to roll back some of Colorado’s gun laws and loosen restrictions on where, when and how people can use firearms. There are concerns among Republican lawmakers about due process and infringing on people’s rights.

“I know discussion have been taking place,” said Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Castle Rock.

Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, said he’s concerned a red flag bill would overlap with Colorado laws already in place to keep people who experience distress from hurting themselves or others, saying they need to be enforced first before new laws are sought. He pointed to the warning signs exhibited by the Parkland shooting gunman that weren’t followed up on by law enforcement.

“Your right to keep and bear arms, your right to protect yourself and your family — it is a right,” he said. “It’s not something that is granted just by statute. Your right to due process is also important. The question is: What are the due process safeguards to anything that is recommended to be put into a statute?”

Article originally appeared in the Denver Post.


Español »