Colorado's Attorney General on Tuesday urged law enforcement jurisdictions to embrace the state's red flag law, arguing it can be, when deployed properly, an effective tool to avoid violent outcomes.
"This red flag law will only be as good as people are able to use it," Phil Weiser told Colorado Politics in an interview after the attack on a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs killed five people. "My judgment is our red flag law is an effective and important tool, and the real limiting factor is a lack of awareness and comfort in using it."
Colorado's red flag law, which the state legislature passed in 2019 and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, allows family or household members or law enforcement officers to petition the court for a temporary Extreme Risk Protection Order against a person who poses an imminent threat to themselves or others "by having in his or her custody or control a firearm or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm."
Hundreds of such orders had been sought since the law took effect, but the law's use has been uneven, with some jurisdictions refusing to deploy it.
Weiser refused to speculate about why no red flag order was pursued against the suspect in the Club Q mass shooting, Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was arrested last year over a bomb threat that forced residents in a Lorson Ranch neighborhood in southeast Colorado Springs to evacuate from their homes for about three hours.
No formal charges were pursued in that case, which has since been sealed.
"It’s too soon to look back and ask what happened, why did it happen, what did we miss," he said. "What we do know is there will be that opportunity and it's an important opportunity."
He added: "We had the same conversation in Boulder after a mass shooting there, which was, 'Were there opportunities to do something earlier?' We're going to keep working on how we better educate law enforcement and the public about this law so that, where we can remove firearms for somebody who is a significant risk to other people or even themselves, we do so."
Weiser noted that more than 30 out of Colorado's 64 counties earlier opposed the red flag law. A majority of them have since used the law, but about a dozen jurisdictions remain resistant to it, Weiser said.
Weiser said an analysis his office did on the law's first year showed that its use is uneven, with some law enforcement jurisdictions more inclined to use it than others.
"We need to make sure that all law enforcement agencies understand this tool, see its value and use it appropriately," Weiser said.
Weiser said that, so far, the red flag orders have been executed properly. Notably, they didn't put law enforcers in a dangerous situation.
"One of the initial concerns about the law is it could endanger law enforcement," Weiser said. "We're learning how to use this procedure in a way that is safe and that removes firearms without any risk to law enforcement."
He added: "And what we're seeing is when we don't remove firearms from people who are dangerous to themselves or others, that creates a real risk of tragedy."
The primary challenge facing Colorado's red flag law remains the level of acceptance and comfort among all law enforcement jurisdictions, Weiser said.
The other challenge, he said, is to ensure that law enforcement agencies understand how and when to use it.
When asked if he would consider tweaks to the red flag law, Weiser said his emphasis is education and outreach about what's already in place.
"We are pursuing funding and educational outreach efforts so that we better use this law," he said. "There had been some studies comparing Colorado’s red flag law to other states’ red flag laws, suggesting we maybe use it less than some other states. My view is we're still getting used to this law."
"The mindset that Colorado law enforcement has is one of continuous improvement," Weiser added. "How do we do better? How do we better protect public safety, particularly against gun violence, which we know we've seen way too much up here in Colorado?"