Opinion | Susan Knopf: Red flag law works in Summit

When 19-year-old Brandon Hole killed eight people at an Indiana FedEx facility, I was saddened. When I heard his mother had his gun confiscated on a red flag order in March 2020, I was perplexed.

According to the IndyStar, the prosecutor said “the red flag law gives the prosecutor’s office 14 days to prove to a judge that an individual is unfit to own or purchase weapons.”

The Indiana county prosecutor decided “two weeks was not enough time for his office … to build a strong case,” according to the IndyStar.

Law enforcement kept the confiscated weapon under an agreement with the Hole family. According to the IndyStar, Hole then bought two automatic weapons in July and September.


I was curious, so I called Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, who said there was a red flag case in Breckenridge.

Breckenridge Assistant Police Chief Deric Gress said it was perhaps only the second red flag order to be processed in Colorado. So much for gun enthusiasts’ fears that the law would be used indiscriminately to confiscate weapons.

The first thing you need to know is that a red flag order is not a criminal matter. It’s a civil case. That has mobilized police and prosecutors to work to understand their responsibilities in this new public safety role, which Gress called a challenge for police who don’t usually participate in the civil process.

Usually, a red flag complaint is filed by a family or household member. The Breckenridge case was particularly tricky because the gun in question was observed when a law enforcement officer was called to the residence.

For the record, police had frequent interactions with this person.

“The individual had been contacted (by law enforcement) more than 10 times in less than three months,” Gress said.

The gun was a particular concern, so the police department filed an extreme risk protection order.

Initially, when officers carried out the search warrant granted by the order, the gun was not found. The next day, the gun was surrendered. Due to COVID-19 restrictions and other issues, the actual red flag order was not granted until nearly four months later.

In this case, the judge worked with law enforcement to bring about a decision that protected the individual and the community.

Finesse was a very important tactic in this case because the individual had had interactions with the Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team, according to Gress. He said it was important that law enforcement not do anything that could shake the confidence of the person and jeopardize the relationship with mental health workers in the SMART program.

The SMART team is a co-responder team consisting of a law enforcement officer and a behavioral health professional who work with a case worker. The team responds to calls throughout the county. These calls involve a mental health component, like a suicide threat. They work to de-escalate the situation. Calls have steadily increased since the team started last year.

The Breckenridge red flag case “went as smoothly as you could hope for, especially with law enforcement being the petitioner,” Gress said.

The big difference between this case and the Indiana FedEx tragedy is that Breckenridge “followed the steps,” he said. The system worked.

In 364 days, the person can petition the court to get the gun back, Gress said. At that time, the judge will determine whether the person is no longer a significant risk to himself or others. Gress called it a “clear and convincing standard.”

If a person is red flagged, their information should be entered into a national database, to keep us all safe.

Just a month after a gunman killed 10 people in a King Soopers in Boulder, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law two bills that bolster Colorado red flag law enforcement.

House Bill 21-1106 requires gun owners to lock up their weapons or face Class 2 misdemeanor charges. Senate Bill 21-078 requires gun owners to report a lost or stolen gun within five days. The first offense is a petty fine, and the second offense is a Class 3 misdemeanor.

Colorado Faith Communities United is working to pass Senate Bill 21-256, which would allow local communities to enact gun regulations more restrictive than state law. Current state law prohibits such local ordinances. We are all working to protect Second Amendment rights while protecting all our citizens from tragedy.

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