Not everyone in Colorado knows what House Bill 1177 is but one group of state residents that does is not pleased about the new legislation. The bill, similar to others that have passed in 17 states and the District of Columbia, gives judges the power to temporarily take away weapons---guns---from men or women believed to be at high risk of harming themselves or others. The measure went into effect January 1st.
The bill was only two days old when Colorado law enforcement used it to seize the weapon of a man who allegedly assaulted his wife and threatened to take his own life. In order to take the weapon, police used a court order. The law, known as the ‘red flag’ law, does not allow authorities to permanently keep confiscated weapons.
As written, law enforcement, a family member or household member must ask a judge for permission before anything is taken. The judge has up to fourteen days to decide. It does not allow the owner to lose possession altogether, though it gives authorities the right to hold on to it for up to 364 days. It also contains a provision that could bar the owner from possessing other firearms while the case is pending.
At the bill signing last April, Governor Jared Polis acknowledged that the bill is not perfect and won’t solve the state’s gun violence problem. “This law will not prevent every shooting,” he said. “But it can be used in a targeted way.” He said the measure might possibly “be saving the life of your nephew, your niece, your grandchild.”
While now law, the measure did not enjoy smooth sailing through the legislative process. More than thirty county sheriffs signed on to what they called “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions. Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, one of the staunchest opponents of HB 1177, said he would look at each ‘red flag’ situation individually. But the sheriff’s of two of the state’s most populated counties, Boulder and Douglas, gave their full support. Douglas County is where one deputy sheriff was fatally wounded as he negotiated with a suspect struggling with a mental health condition. The county is also the site of last May’s shooting at Highlands Ranch STEM School. One student was killed, and eight others were injured.
The law did also not get uniform support from those who must prosecute gun violence crimes. George Brauchler, who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter, opposed the bill.
But Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, also a former state legislator and one- time Denver’s Manager of Public Safety, gave the measure full, undiluted support citing the law’s first demonstrated success. “Colorado’s new red flag law is already proving to be effective,” she said. “I fully support Colorado’s red flag law because it will save lives.” McCann said she would like to see “more education” on the law to help people better understand it. She also called on “more support for victims.”
Colorado is just the latest state to enact a red flag law. Connecticut was the first when it passed its version in 1999. California, Florida and New York, three of the nation’s most populous states, also have similar laws on the books. One of the motivations for these laws is the rash of highly publicized shootings each state has experienced.
Interestingly, until 2018, only four states had red flag laws. But following Florida’s mass shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018 where 17 students were gunned down and 14 others were seriously wounded, four states almost immediately enacted them. Nikolas Cruz, a student at the school, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Last year two major mass shootings, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, claimed the lives of 31 victims and left scores of others with serious gunshot injuries.
Colorado’s passage of a red flag law took fire almost immediately from gun rights organizations. One group, Rally for our Rights, urged its supporters to “question everything you hear the media say about this legislation.” At the same time, such disparate voices including President Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham joined Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal in advocating for similar laws.
The Denver case in which a court allowed for the seizure of a weapon was the first application of the law in the state. But it has not been the only such action. In the first two weeks of the new legislation, authorities have used the law five times, including once taking a weapon from a man who was potentially suicidal and another from a police officer.