A bill that supporters hope will prevent the kinds of situations that led to the New Year’s Eve ambush of a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy was introduced in the House Monday.
The Deputy Zackari Parrish, III Violence Prevention Act, House Bill 1436, is backed by bipartisan House leadership, as well as gun control and law enforcement officials.
House Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver and his Republican counterpart, Cole Wist of Centennial, were flanked by sheriffs, police chiefs, gun control advocates and 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler in announcing the bill’s introduction Monday.
The measure will allow law enforcement or a family member to seek a court order to remove weapons from a person deemed dangerous, under a probable cause standard. It’s known as an “Extreme Risk Protective Order” (ERPO). Similar laws are in place in at least eight other states, according to the measure’s sponsors.
The ERPO, also known as a “red flag,” is a civil order, not a criminal one, according to Colorado Ceasefire. The initial hearing would determine whether the person is at risk of harming him or herself or at risk to harm others. If the person is a risk, the ERPO lasts for seven days, during which law enforcement can remove firearms and ammunition. At the end of the seven days, a second hearing is held with the person at risk to determine whether to continue the order, which can be extended for another 182 days. At that second hearing, a more restrictive standard — that of clear and convincing evidence — must be met in order to keep the ERPO in place.
While ERPO laws exist in other states, there is none quite like this one, Garnett told reporters Monday.
“The bill protects people’s Second Amendment rights and includes rigorous due process for the person with a red flag,” Wist said. The Parrish shooting “underscores the fact that Colorado’s very high eminent danger standard for mental health holds provides law enforcement with limited tools to deal with someone going through a major mental health crisis. That limitation is compounded when the individual going through a crisis has access to firearms. This places law enforcement in incredibly dangerous and precarious positions. We can do better.”
Wist said the General Assembly frequently gets bogged down in debates over Second Amendment and gun control issues but added that he is “proud we have avoided those usual pitfalls” with this bill.
“Law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear from this legislation,” he said.
This bill will save lives, said Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock. “It does not infringe on constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” he said.
Spurlock said that had a red flag bill been in place, they might have been able to stop not only the Parrish assassination but several other incidents involving mentally ill individuals who had access to guns and used them to harm themselves or others.
“It protects people who you know as well as I do shouldn’t have guns when they’re in a medical mental health crisis,” he said.
Spurlock explained that they had been working for months on finding a way to deal with the individual who murdered Deputy Parrish. Had the red flag law been in place, they could have picked him up on a trip to the grocery store, for example, and removed his guns without incident.
Brauchler said that while he is skeptical about giving the government more authority on guns, skepticism is no excuse for inaction. The status quo isn’t working, he said.
“To do nothing at this point no longer makes sense,” he added.
The bill is also about suicide prevention, according to former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, who is now the CEO of Mental Health Colorado. Romanoff lost a close family member to suicide by gun three years ago.
“This isn’t about gun control,” he said, adding that “we cannot wait” another year for this bill. “If we wait, people will die.”
“I’m sick and tired that we can’t intervene earlier,” added Arapahoe County Sheriff Dave Walcher. “Why do we have to wait for something to happen” first?
The bill’s biggest hurdle will be getting it through the Republican-controlled Senate. where Sen. John Cooke of Greeley, a former Weld County sheriff, has raised concerns about its balance between confiscation and mental health. Several speakers at the Monday press conference begged the Senate Republicans to read the bill and consider it carefully. Garnett said that Cooke’s support is critical and that his door is open for any ideas Senate Republicans may have.
The bill, which sponsors say will be introduced later Monday, will be heard in a House committee Tuesday.
The General Assembly adjourns on May 8, seven working days from today.