State lawmakers push to allow temporary removal of guns from high-risk individuals
Colorado lawmakers are pushing forward with an effort to better address the convergence of issues related to mental illness and gun ownership after a new bill addressing the topic passed in the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week.
The bill, introduced to the state Legislature last week, calls for the creation of an extreme risk protection order — essentially a new law that would authorize law enforcement officials, family or household members to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from the possession of individuals who pose a significant risk to themselves or others.
At the hearing on Thursday, the bill passed in a split 7-4 decision down party lines, with the Democrat majority carrying the vote. Of note, a similar bill known as the “red flag” bill passed in the house last year before failing to pass in the Senate’s State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. But early strong support has backers of the bill optimistic that this year may be different.
“This bill fills a critical gap in our ability to keep our community safe,” said Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown, who testified in favor of the bill during Thursday’s hearing. “Unless a person is gravely disabled or commits a criminal offense, there’s no mechanism to temporarily deprive them of their firearms. This is important when someone is going through a traumatic episode or incident in their life and presents a risk to the safety of themselves and other people.”
If passed, the bill would allow law enforcement agents, family or household members to petition a court to remove firearms from someone’s possession if the reporting party can establish a “preponderance of the evidence” that the person is a significant risk. Once the petition has been made, courts would be required to hold a temporary extreme risk protection order hearing either that day or the following day.
After the issuance of a temporary ERPO, the court would be required to schedule a hearing no later than 14 days after to determine whether continuing the order is warranted. If the court issues an ERPO, it prohibits the individual in question from possessing a firearm for 364 days. Additionally, the bill would allow the individual to call for a hearing to terminate the ERPO if they can establish “clear and convincing” evidence that they no longer pose a significant risk.
Opponents of the bill argue that it’s a potential violation of Second Amendment rights for individuals who have their guns confiscated, and point to the fact that during appeal hearings the burden of proof slides from the state toward the impacted party. Attempts to contact opponents of the bill, including all four dissenting members of the House Judiciary Committee, the National Association for Gun Rights and others were unsuccessful.
Along with Brown, other community leaders in Summit County have thrown their weight behind the bill. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, a longtime proponent for improved mental health care in the county, said he supports the bill completely.
“As hard as we’ve worked in this community on mental health, and considering all of the programs in regards to mental health we plan to implement over the next few years, I support this bill wholeheartedly,” said FitzSimons. “We’ve got to find a way to remove guns from the hands of people that shouldn’t have them.”
FitzSimons said that he views the bill as an extra tool in the hands of law enforcement agents around the state, noting ongoing mental health issues in Summit County as a major concern. He also said that he views the bill as a natural extension to things like emergency protection orders, which are issued frequently.
“If you’re the subject of numerous calls, someone of risk with firearms, if we remove the firearms and continue to have contact it’s lowered that threat level,” said FitzSimons. “Everybody is a lot calmer when gunplay isn’t involved, and everybody thinks a littler clearer. It also removes another option for them to do something they’ll probably regret. At the end of the day we’re saving lives. This is no different from issuing emergency protection orders. It’s another tool for protection for the person at risk, for law enforcement officers and for the community.”
Brown called the bill a product of current societal trends, wherein mental health issues have been relegated in greater state and national conversations, but warned that it was still important to step lightly when fussing with constitutional issues. Brown acknowledged that the bill is a Second Amendment issue, but said it wouldn’t violate anyone’s right to own a firearm.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms already has standards that can disqualify individuals from purchasing or owning firearms, including people who were determined by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.
“The question is if this bill is consistent with those long-standing exceptions,” said Brown. “And the answer is yes. Restrictions on gun ownership shouldn’t be taken lightly, particularly in our community that has long-standing customs connected with firearms. Having said that, the most important thing is that the people who are around us continue to be safe and their lives are protected. It’s a restriction I think is reasonable based on where we’re at culturally at this time.”
The bill has been passed to the House Appropriations Committee, though no hearing has been scheduled yet.
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