DENVER • Coloradans want to eliminate the number of murders, mass shootings and suicides committed with firearms.
Where they differ is how to accomplish that, bringing out emotional arguments Friday during a state Senate committee hearing on what is known as a “red flag” bill that would allow a family member or law enforcement official to petition a court for a temporary “extreme risk protection order” if they can show a person poses a significant risk to themselves or others by owning a gun.
The bill, which has passed the state House, was approved by the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee Friday along party lines.
Before majority Democrats on the committee approved it, witnesses sought to sway lawmakers with stories of loved ones lost to gun violence and suicide, or their fears that the law would be abused and deprive them of their constitutional right to own firearms.
Judy Amabile said she and her husband knew their son, who had a history of mental illness, shouldn’t own a gun and once begged a gun shop owner not to sell him one.
“Two days later our son was hospitalized after a standoff with police,” she said. “Every day we wonder what could have happened and when he might try again to buy a gun. There’s nothing stopping him.”
Others recalled the death of Douglas County Deputy Zack Parrish, 29, who was killed Jan. 1, 2018, after he and other deputies were ambushed in Highlands Ranch as they sought to help a man in the depths of a mental health crisis.
Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, co-sponsor of House bill 1117 the bill along with Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, said the proposed measure could prevent tragic deaths like Parrish’s in the future.
Parrish’s former boss, Sheriff Tony Spurlock agreed.
“We have a crisis in this country of mental health issues, a crisis where people have been left to take care of themselves and the severely mentally ill cannot do that,” Spurlock said.
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith acknowledged the country’s mental health crisis, but said confiscating guns is the wrong solution.
Spurlock disputed claims that the proposed law violated constitutional rights, saying due process is protected by requiring that a judge approve an extreme risk protection order.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who also testified in support of the bill, reiterated that point and noted that the right to bear arms is not absolute in cases where lives are at risk.
After the initial order is issued, the bill would require a second hearing within 14 days where either law enforcement officials or family members must show “clear and convincing evidence” that the person remains a danger. The weapons could then be held for up to 364 days while the owner seeks mental health treatment, which could be court ordered under the bill.
Before the weapons could be returned, the person would have to show they are no longer a danger.
The measure goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.