Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Friday signed a bill allowing a court to order the seizure of guns from a person deemed to be a threat.
Polis was flanked by dozens of the bill's supporters as he signed House Bill 1177, including state Attorney General Phil Weiser, who has said he considers the law to be constitutional despite complaints from opponents that it violates 2nd Amendment gun rights; and former U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh, who shares Weiser's view.
Also on hand for Friday's signing of the "red flag" measure were members of law enforcement; Jane Dougherty, whose sister was murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and who wiped away tears throughout most of the ceremony; and Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was murdered in the Columbine High School massacre 20 years ago next week, and who wore his son’s shoes as he has every time he speaks on the issue.
And Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial, a key backer of the measure, was in attendance. Sullivan's son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, which took place on his 27th birthday.
The murder prompted Sullivan to become active on the issue of gun violence, and spurred him to run for the General Assembly last year, a race pitting him against the red-flag bill’s 2018 sponsor, Republican Rep. Cole Wist.
Polis' signature made Colorado the 15th state to adopt a red-flag law, the Associated Press reports.
The measure saw final passage by the legislature April 1 after nearly two months of debate and finger-pointing about tactics used to pass it, plus threats of recalls, warnings about non-compliance by sheriffs, and dozens of declarations of "2nd Amendment sanctuary" counties.
At least 30 Colorado counties, all but one outside of the Denver metro area, had 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.
Last year's version did have a modest amount of GOP support, although it was defeated anyway, but critics said this year's version is more extreme and poses a greater threat to Second Amendment gun rights because, in their view, it would make it too easy to seize guns and too difficult for someone to get them back.
The Democrat-sponsored bill would allow family, household members or law enforcement to petition a court for an "extreme risk protection order" (ERPO) 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.
The law allows courts to start accepting requests for ERPOs on Jan. 1, 2020. In the meantime, the state Police Office Standards Board, which is under Weiser's office, along with chiefs of police, are working on policies for law enforcement in how to implement the law.
The final April 1 House vote sending the measure to Polis 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).
A few days earlier, the Senate passed the measure by a single vote, 18-17 with Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, joining Republicans in opposition.
At Friday's signing ceremony, Sullivan noted it has been 351 Fridays since his son was murdered, and that the bill becoming law was not really a time for celebration, although he called it a monumental moment.
“I know how important this is, and how this will save lives," he said. “Being a parent of a murdered child, everything is stunted ... It’s not that I don’t laugh or smile, but I can’t do it with the same vigor that I was able to do before. As happy as I am that all of this has happened today, knowing that this will save lives, and that the state will be better because of all of the work we’ve done, it’s difficult for me to just grasp it and enjoy it. Don’t use me as a marker for how happy you can be ... There’s too much work in front of us. I struggle with the price we paid to get where we are today."
Colorado has endured more than its fair share of tragedy, Polis said, adding that it's always difficult to address the intersection of mental health and rights, especially when sheriffs have to enforce involuntary commitments.
Polis maintained that the new law will be a critical tool for law enforcement, judges and families, and is consistent with the 2nd Amendment.
It will help save lives "and focus our efforts as a society on mental health issues and access to mental health resources for those in need. We also reflect on so many lives we wish we could have back,” the governor added.
“These aren’t partisan issues. An overwhelming majority of Democrats, Republicans and gun owners support this law,” he said.
The measure "will not prevent every shooting, but it can be used in a targeted way to make sure those who are suffering from a mental health crisis can have a temporary court order in place that helps make sure they don’t harm themselves or others," he said.
The law is referred to as the Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Prevention Act, named for a Douglas County deputy who was ambushed on Dec. 31, 2017 by a heavily armed man believed to be mentally ill.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who attended the signing, said he had spoken to Parrish’s parents, whose concern, he said, is for others.
“I knew I was doing the right thing to stand for this," he said.
Polis said Spurlock showed "remarkable courage and integrity" in supporting the bill. The sheriff is now the target of a recall in Douglas County.
“This is being done successfully in other states,” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, whose son, Jeff, a Douglas County deputy, was wounded in the Dec. 31, 2017, ambush.
“This can be done safely, intelligently and without putting deputies at risk of extreme harm,” he said.
“I am sick and tired of the tragedies of gun violence,” thundered Democratic Sen. Lois Court of Denver, one of two co-sponsors in the Senate. “I don’t want just thoughts and prayers. ... It’s not enough to say I’m sorry!”
The other Senate co-sponsor, Democratic Sen. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, said Democratic lawmakers have received threats for voting for the bill. She teared up as she described those threats from what she called “the extreme gun lobby."
"This is unacceptable,” Pettersen said. “We cannot let their message win.”
Noting that Colorado now joins 15 other states in passing a red flag law, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona -- who was injured in a 2011 mass shooting -- said in a statement that “Americans are demanding solutions to protect their families, and lawmakers in states across the country are finding the courage to pass bills that will make our communities safer from gun violence. If we’re serious about saving lives, we must continue to be serious about giving families and law enforcement officials the tools they need to prevent people at risk of harming themselves or others from accessing guns. Leaders in Colorado understand this and it’s why they’ve worked tirelessly to sign this extreme risk protection order legislation into law. I applaud Governor Polis and the Colorado legislature for leading with action and taking responsible steps to help keep guns out of the hands of people who are experiencing a crisis.”