Weld joins Colorado counties declaring themselves a “Second Amendment sanctuary”
By: Anna Staver
March 6, 2019
A handful of conservative Colorado counties are pushing back against a potential state law that would let judges order the removal of firearms from people they determine to be a safety risk.
Weld on Wednesday joined Fremont, Montezuma, Otero and Custer counties in passing a resolution indirectly condemning the extreme risk protection order, or “red flag,” bill being debated at the Capitol as unconstitutional and excusing their local sheriffs and other law enforcement from carrying out those orders.
“I think we’re trying to make a statement to the lawmakers in Denver who are acting on their own agenda and not listening to the rest of the state,” Fremont County Commissioner Dwayne McFall said. “We’re not sworn to uphold an unconstitutional law.”
The law McFall and his fellow county commissioners are worried about technically doesn’t exist yet. The Colorado House passed a bill earlier this week that would allow such protection orders, but it hasn’t had a hearing in the Senate yet. Republicans blocked a similar bill during the 2018 session, when they had a Senate majority, but Democrats gained control in November’s midterm election.
“No one wants people with mental health issues or anyone who could be a danger to themselves or others to have access to firearms,” said Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican.
The problem he and other Republicans have with House Bill 1177 is the way it goes about taking guns from people suspected of being in the midst of a mental health crisis. The bill would direct judges to apply a legal standard known as the “preponderance of evidence,” which Williams thinks is far too low for a constitutional right like the Second Amendment. And once weapons are confiscated, it puts the burden of proof on the owner to prove that they should be returned.
“I feel strongly about this being a violation of the Constitution,” Williams said.
That’s why he’s encouraging counties to become “Second Amendment sanctuary counties.”
“It gives sheriffs the needed support to essentially ignore these laws,” Williams said. “That would be the goal.”
McFall said he has talked to county officials in 10 other Colorado counties that are interested in becoming Second Amendment sanctuaries, and his fellow commissioners have fielded calls from more. One of the issues he keeps hearing from rural counties is how this bill might impact their budgets.
Fremont County, for example, barely has enough room to store the evidence its law enforcement needs to keep for ongoing cases, McFall said – they don’t have room to store confiscated weapons. And he worried about being sued by a gun owner for damage done to their weapons.
Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser and former U.S. Attorney John Walsh support the extreme risk protection order bill as it’s written. Walsh testified during the House Judiciary Committee that he believes the bill is legal under the Second, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Advocacy groups that support the bill like Mental Health Colorado and Violence Free Colorado are apprehensive about the possibility of county sheriffs across Colorado choosing not to enforce these orders, saying it could endanger people in domestic violence situations and those who are suicidal.
“More than half of all suicides in Colorado involve a firearm,” Mental Health Colorado said in a statement. “We believe everyone should have access to this life-saving protection order no matter where you live. Saving lives should not be a partisan issue.”
House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said in a statement that partisan politics is behind these resolutions: “It’s unfortunate that some have chosen to drive misinformation and manufactured outrage about this life-saving bill.”
Originally appeared on Reporter-Herald.