Opinion | Susan Knopf: Is the Red Flag Bill about mental health or gun seizure?
For the record
If you knew your neighbor had been drinking a lot lately and had been talking about killing herself, and she owned a gun, would you do something about it? Would you call the police to report her as high-risk? What if you didn’t report her and she killed herself? How would you feel?
The Red Flag Bill, as it’s commonly called, seeks to add a new tool to the community to protect human life. HB19-1177 creates a temporary extreme risk protection order. A family member, household member or law enforcement officer can seek a court-ordered ERPO. According to the official bill summary, “The petitioner must establish by a preponderance of … evidence that a person poses a significant risk to self or others … by possessing, purchasing, or receiving a firearm. The petitioner must submit an affidavit signed under oath and penalty of perjury that sets forth facts to support the issuance of a temporary ERPO … The court must hold a temporary ERPO hearing …”
The initial order is good for 14 days and then the person whose guns were removed can come back to court to demonstrate why they should have the firearms returned. The state would need to make a good case to continue to hold the guns. If the judge upholds the initial order, the guns would be removed for up to 364 days.
The proposed bill has stirred up a firestorm of controversy. Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock is the leading outspoken advocate for the bill. He believes the bill would have saved the life of his deputy, Zack Parrish. A year ago, Parrish was killed by a local resident known to law enforcement. Spurlock says he tried every legal tool available to disarm the shooter before the incident. He says he had no law or tool to disarm the citizen.
Douglas County Commissioners have a different point of view. They passed a resolution condemning the bill as unconstitutional. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported El Paso County Commissioners declared their county “a second amendment preservation” zone. Reportedly Weld, Otero, Rio Blanco, Fremont, Moffat and Kiowa counties are joining the fray.
The problem is if elected officials in these counties fail to enforce the law, that is if it’s passed, they could be held in contempt of court. They might also be held liable and sued if someone gets hurt or dies while they are refusing to enforce the law. An interesting twist of unexpected consequences — instead of making their counties a bastion of freedom, the officials could be making their counties havens for gun-toting nut jobs running away from their home counties, lest their guns be removed for their own safety.
“Guns move as freely as people do,” said District Attorney Bruce Brown. “The (proposed) regulation applies to people and where the firearms are found. It’s important that people in Douglas County, as well as Summit County, have protection from those who might wrongly hurt themselves or others with firearms.”
According to Colorado Faith Communities United to End Gun Violence, 60 percent of Coloradans, regardless of political affiliation, support the bill. The bill has already passed the House, as did a similar bill last year. On March 15 the bill will be heard by the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee, where it died last year. Advocates are optimistic it will pass this session.
The biggest issue seems to be: Is this a mental health or a gun seizure bill? Gun rights advocates say it violates the second amendment. Do you want your neighbor or your friend to have access to firearms if the person is going through an emotionally troubling time? I know the answer to this question. My cousin committed suicide with a gun while on a home furlough from a mental health treatment facility. My neighbor committed suicide. She had been raped. When she committed suicide the family thought she “was doing better.” Imagine if either of these people had been protected by an ERPO for a year?
According to Colorado Faith Communities United to End Gun Violence, the bill has broad bipartisan support including law enforcement officials, district attorneys and the mental health practitioners. Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said he supports the bill. The Summit Daily’s Sawyer D’Argonne reported that FitzSimons said, “It’s another tool for protection for the person at risk, for law enforcement officers and for the community.”
About a year ago, the executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action Chris Cox appeared in a video advocating for risk protection orders and better background checks. The video is embedded in a USA Today story. You can find the link online in “For The Record’s” digital version.
Conservatives say they support mental health reforms. They say guns don’t kill people, people kill people. It seems apparent that those deemed sufficiently emotionally troubled, that could pose a danger to themselves or others, should be denied access to firearms for everyone’s protection. It would be nice to protect citizens and law enforcement officers from the inappropriate use of guns.
District Attorney Brown said this is an “incredibly difficult issue. We want to protect the legitimate use of firearms. We have to respect sportsman’s rights.” This proposed bill does not affect legitimate firearm use. To get an extreme risk protection order, the risk must be demonstrated in a court of law to the satisfaction of a judge. It’s clear no one’s right will be violated. On the contrary, rights will be preserved. A person will no longer be defined by a singular moment of depression or tragic loss of judgment. Instead, the community will seek to defend each individual’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident who writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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