A bill allowing a court to order the seizure of guns from a person deemed to be a threat is on its way to the governor's desk.
Colorado's House voted Monday to approve Senate amendments to the so-called "red flag" measure, House Bill 1177. Gov. Jared Polis has pledged to sign it; he has 10* days to do so once it reaches his desk, which could take as long as two weeks.
The law goes into effect immediately upon signature of the governor, although courts and law enforcement officials have until Jan. 1 to come up with conforming processes.
The final vote was 38-25, with Democrats Bri Buentello of Pueblo and Donald Valdez of La Jara joining the House's Republicans in voting no (and with a couple of lawmakers excused).
The Democrat-sponsored bill would allow family, household members or law enforcement to petition a court to have guns seized from an owner if they believe he or she poses a threat to themselves or others.
Once that has happened, the person who possessed the firearms would be provided with legal counsel and a hearing within 14 days to determine if a longer-term order should be put in place for up to 364 days. The court can order a mental health evaluation, as well as mental health treatment.
The bill places the burden of proof on the gun owner to prove that he or she no longer poses a risk in order to get the firearms back.
Minority Republican lawmakers fought furiously against the bill.
Senate changes to the bill on Monday were largely technical, said House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver, a prime co-sponsor.
Garnett told reporters after the bill's final passage that Monday was a "monumental day."
"Colorado really took a step forward in protecting the public, trying to prevent future gun violence," he said.
He also expressed his admiration for his House co-sponsor, Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial, whose son Alex was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and for whom he ran the bill.
Garnett additionally expressed admiration for other victims of gun violence, district attorneys and law enforcement officers who helped put in place "model legislation that maximizes due process" and that will save lives, he said.
Garnett addressed some of the bill's critics, whom he said expressed the kind of "hard and fast opposition that Coloradans are sick of." He said those groups never once asked to sit down with him to discuss their concerns. He also pointed out that the bill had 25 changes largely based on concerns heard in committee hearings. He specifically called out Sheriff Steve Reams of Weld County. Reams testified during a Feb. 21 House Judiciary Committee hearing that the bill doesn't address the real issue, which he said is mental health.
"I don't deny that many citizens suffer from behavioral or mental illness," but the bill doesn't address that underlying issue, he told the committee. If the goal is to protect the public, the effort should focus on mental health reform and not gun confiscation, he added.
"My door would have been open" had Reams sought a meeting, Garnett said.
Garnett also went after the county commissions who have adopted resolutions against the measure, some based on questions about the bill's constitutionality. Both Attorney General Phil Weiser and former U.S. Attorney John Walsh have deemed the measure constitutional, he said. These are the folks who determine whether something's constitutional, not county commissioners, Garnett said.
"Lives are going to be saved because of this," Garnett said. "The fear tactics and intimidation tactics that came from one extreme side of the spectrum didn't work. Coloradans should feel good that obstructionist nature for the sake of obstruction is not how we do business in Colorado."
As to the recalls, some of which are being run by House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock and his brother Joe Neville, Garnett called them "costly taxpayer-funded elections" that go after lawmakers who were just elected, many with strong support.
"It's a tactic in obstruction that's more reflective of Washington" than what Coloradans expect here, Garnett said.
The world has changed a lot since 2013, he said, a reference to two Democratic lawmakers, both in the Senate, who were recalled largely due to their support for gun control measures that year.
"The public is overwhelmingly supportive of temporarily removing firearms from people who are deemed dangerous by a judge," he said. "They want the legislature to stand up and stop mass shootings."
Last Thursday, Sen. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, one of the bill's chief sponsors in the Senate, said the bill is not controversial outside of the Capitol. But in fact, the bill has generated considerable opposition, especially in rural Colorado.
As of March 27, 31 counties, all but one outside of the Denver metro area, have adopted resolutions declaring themselves sanctuary counties, meaning they will not enforce the law if signed by the governor. The largest of them: Weld and El Paso counties, although the latter is a "preservation" county rather than against enforcing the law at all. Sheriff's spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby said in a statement last month that the Sheriff’s Office would serve any court orders issued under the new law, as it does temporary protection orders, and instruct the individual to surrender any firearms to a licensed dealer. But the agency would not search a residence for guns or store surrendered guns, Kirby said.
One other county — Rio Blanco, on the Western Slope — adopted a similar resolution based on the 2018 bill. Several sheriffs have also said they will not enforce the law.
HB 1177 is cited as one of several reasons for attempted recalls of Democrats throughout the state, including a recall attempt for Senate President Leroy Garcia, and Reps. Buentello and Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, although Garcia and Buentello both voted against the bill.
Garcia said Wednesday he could not support the bill.
“I took a hard look at this bill, and while I strongly believe in its intent of preventing gun violence, this is simply not the right legislation for the people of Pueblo and southern Colorado,” he told The Pueblo Chieftain last week.
Also targeted for potential recall: Rep. Rochelle Galindo of Greeley, and Sen. Jeff Bridges and Rep. Meg Froelich, both of Greenwood Village.
The Pueblo Chieftain reported last week that Valdez is also being considered for a recall, although he, too, voted against the bill.
One Republican sheriff, Tony Spurlock of Douglas County, has also been targeted for a recall tied to his support of House Bill 1177. Two recall groups on Facebook are currently sparring over who will target Polis.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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Correction: an earlier version said Polis had 30 days to sign the bill.