New red flag law, which aimed to prevent gun violence, has not been used in Summit County
KEYSTONE — Colorado’s red flag law went into effect more than seven months ago, but the new measure meant to help prevent gun violence and suicide hasn’t been used much — or at all — in Summit County.
Local law enforcement agencies have yet to respond to any extreme risk protection orders since the law went into effect Jan. 1, though officials said the law’s lack of early usage isn’t necessarily a surprise.
“I’m not aware that any have been issued,” said District Attorney Bruce Brown, pointing to the entire Fifth Judicial District that includes Summit, Eagle, Lake and Clear Creek counties. “I think this is consistent with my expectation — not that it would never be used but that it would seldom be used.
“The circumstances in which the law was intended to be used are narrow, and the court would have to find that a petition to remove somebody’s firearms was able to meet that restrictive standard. The fact that there aren’t applications indicates that at least in our district, the legislative intent was met.”
Last year, state lawmakers passed the Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Prevention Act, named for a Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed responding to a disturbance call involving an emotionally unstable man on New Years Eve in 2017.
The law allows law enforcement officers — along with other qualified individuals like family members or roommates — to petition a court for a temporary extreme risk protection order, requiring evidence that a person poses a significant risk to themselves or others by having a firearm in their possession. Summit County Clerk of Court Chris Kilkenny confirmed that there have not been any extreme risk protection orders issued in Summit County from citizen petitioners.
If the court receives a petition, it’s required to hold a hearing on the matter by the next day at the latest. And if the order is granted, local law enforcement agencies are responsible for ensuring the gun owner surrenders their firearm. The protection orders can prohibit individuals from possessing a firearm for up to 364 days.
There are checks in place to make sure the new law isn’t being exploited unfairly, including a second hearing, no later than two weeks after an order is granted, where the affected person can plead their case for why the order was unwarranted. The individual also can motion the court to terminate the protection order one more time during the 364-day period if they can convince the court they’re no longer a risk.
But at least for now, the lack of cases has helped put some of those concerns to bed.
“There were a lot of fears that the method was going to be used by ex-spouses that were trying to get retribution or spurious circumstances where somebody didn’t have a reasonable fear,” Brown said. “At least in our district, those fears haven’t yet borne out. It’s still early; we’re less than a year into this. Sometimes, new laws remain dormant until some precipitating event, and then you see a string of use for a particular law.”
Brown pointed to little-used public health laws that weren’t frequently reviewed or implemented until the COVID-19 pandemic and are now being chewed over on a daily basis.
While a lack of some precipitating incident — along with the relative novelty of the law — help to explain its lack of use, others have pointed to constantly expanding mental health resources in the county as a major factor in keeping the red flag law out of common usage.
“We have not done one yet,” Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “I think we should interpret that through our strong stance on addressing mental health issues in the community. When you put together things like Building Hope, the (Systemwide Mental Assessment Response) Team and the jail-based behavioral health services, we’re meeting and supporting all of these folks in the community, the jail or through other services, and all the providers that come with that.
“We’re knocking it out of the park as a community to address mental health issues. We just need to continue bringing the help people need to them, and letting them remain here and be successful in our community.”
The SMART team is composed of a deputy, behavioral health specialist and case manager who respond to mental health related calls to help de-escalate the situation and stabilize individuals in their homes.
A single team launched in January, coinciding with the start date of the red flag law, and the Sheriff’s Office is working to expand with a second team to help meet demand.
Other law enforcement leaders said that regardless of mental health infrastructure in the area, they never anticipated the extreme risk protection order would be a heavily used instrument.
“I didn’t anticipate this tool would get a whole lot of use,” Breckenridge Police Department Chief Jim Baird said. “The situations that it applies to have such a narrow range. I think even prior to this legislation being passed, I can’t think of a time where even if we had it on the books it would have necessarily been used. It’s the type of thing we’d only use if there were no other options available, but there usually are other options.”
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