Colorado State of the State

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis leaves the House of Representatives chamber after delivering his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in the State Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, in Denver.

Gov. Jared Polis believes Colorado's red flag law is a more effective tool than an assault weapons ban, which General Assembly Democrats appear to be pursuing.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders — which allow family members or law enforcement officers to petition a court to removing firearms from a person who poses an imminent threat to themselves or others — were central to Polis' public safety messaging in Tuesday State of the State address.

The governor kicked off his second term in part by calling on the legislature to beef up the state's red flag law, which lawmakers passed in 2019 and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

"Right now, loved ones and local law enforcement have the ability to pursue an extreme risk protection order. But why not expand this to include additional petitioners, like district attorneys?" he said in the address. 

But when asked by reporters about a draft bill from three legislative Democrats seeking to ban the purchase of what the drafters describe as "assault weapons," the governor demurred. 

"I haven't seen anything like that," Polis said. "There's many proposals that you and I wouldn't know any more about than what we've heard being discussed.

"We specifically, looking at the data, believe that extreme risk protection orders can work better."

Asked to contrast that stance with a 2018 bill he co-sponsored while in Congress titled "Assault Weapons Ban of 2018," Polis said federal action on guns was needed first, noting: " There's limits to what states can do."

He specifically highlighted universal background checks.

"We're proud of our universal background checks in Colorado, it's a good system," he said. "But even if you're a convicted felon in Colorado, you can drive an hour and a half to an open air show in Wyoming and with no background check at all, purchase several weapons and bring them back to Colorado."

In the opening days of 2023, the red flag law has been a central feature for Colorado's constitutional officers who deal with public safety. In his swearing-in ceremony, Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser also touched on the subject.

He spoke about making sure the state’s law for extreme risk protection orders works effectively, but stopped short of saying he would support his office having the ability to file petitions. He noted that his office doesn’t have the closeness to individual communities that local law enforcement agencies do.

“Our jobs can be as a trainer to help them get the knowledge and the ability to use this law effectively,” he said.

Polis reinforced the emphasis on the red flag law when speaking to reporters after the address.

"We specifically called for expanding petitioners for Extreme Risk Protection Orders .... We want to make sure that it's accessible and works, publicize it, and also make sure that we have the right set of petitioners to make sure it's used," he said, before touting a partnership with a bipartisan group of mayors calling for the state to ban untraceable weapons known as ghost guns.

The use of the red flag law and potential legislative tweaks to strengthen its effectiveness have come into sharpen focus in the wake of the November shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs. 

Polis suggested law enforcers in El Paso County — or the mother of the suspect of the Club Q shooting — should have pursued a red flag law order, arguing signs existed of a troubled life that warranted such an action.

"So, right now, in Colorado, you could have parents or family members go for an extreme risk protection order or red flag law. That's fairly common," Gov. Jared Polis said on "Face the Nation." "It wasn't pursued in this instance by the mother. You can also have a local sheriff agency do it. In this case, it wasn't pursued by the local sheriff agency."

He added: "I'm sure what will be looked into is 'why wasn't it pursued'."

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. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has never used it, and the Colorado Springs Police Department has used it twice since it went into effect three years ago. 

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