El Paso County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday declaring the county a “Second Amendment preservation county,” cementing their opposition to a red flag gun bill in the Legislature.
House Bill 1177 would allow temporary seizure of guns from people whom a court deems to be a risk to themselves or others.
But commissioners say it wouldn’t address mental health issues often at the root of gun violence, and it violates people’s constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms and the right to due process.
“I’m saddened that, as a local elected official, I’m even faced with a resolution to affirm a right that was guaranteed in our Constitution,” Commissioner Cami Bremer said. “I honestly believe that this bill was crafted by well-meaning people, but that does not make it a good bill.”
In the resolution, commissioners demand “that the Legislature cease and desist any further actions restricting the Second Amendment rights of citizens” and threaten legal action if the law is enacted. The resolution also says commissioners will not “appropriate funds, resources, employees or agencies to initiate unconstitutional seizures in unincorporated El Paso County.”
Half a dozen other Colorado counties, including Fremont and Weld, have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries in response to the red flag bill. Teller County commissioners resolved Thursday to “protect the inalienable and individual right to keep and bear arms in Teller County.”
Before El Paso County commissioners approved their resolution, several residents asked them not to challenge the red flag bill, saying it could prevent suicides and other firearms deaths.
“I do not understand why you, as the Board of County Commissioners, don’t want to save lives,” said resident Deborah Griffin, who said similar laws have prevented suicides in more than a dozen other states.
Jillian Freeland, a county resident and sociologist, testified that she was “afraid that we are playing identity politics with the lives in our community by refusing to enforce a piece of legislation that is coming down through officials elected by the people of Colorado.”
“This puts our community at risk, and it does not uphold our Constitution,” said Freeland, adding that she owns several guns.
But many others urged the commissioners to oppose the bill, calling it a thinly veiled attempt to take guns from citizens.
“You must protect the individual rights of individual citizens,” resident Roger Oakey told commissioners.
Under the red flag bill, “clear and convincing evidence” of a person’s danger would have to be presented in a hearing. Weapons then could be held for up to 364 days while the person gets treatment, which can be court-ordered. To recover the guns, the person must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that he no longer poses a danger.
Sheriff Bill Elder said the county will seek a court-ordered injunction to stop the law from taking effect Jan. 1, if the governor signs the bill.
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, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby said in a statement. But the agency would not search a residence for guns or store surrendered guns, Kirby said.
District Attorney Dan May told commissioners that he supports the concept behind the bill, but it’s a flawed proposal that “shifts the burden of proof” to firearms owners, who must prove that they are mentally fit to have a gun.
“I support the idea of taking guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill and pose a danger to society. But this bill does not accomplish those ends,” May said.
Commissioner Holly Williams echoed May’s concerns, saying, “This is a country where we are innocent until proven guilty. And this bill states, ‘You are guilty, and you have to prove your innocence.’ That is unacceptable in my mind.”
But Dr. Erik Wallace said that burden of proof is on the petitioner who is seeking to have a person declared dangerous. The proposal does “not violate the Second Amendment rights of anyone who is not in immediate danger of killing themselves or anyone else,” said Wallace, associate dean for the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s branch in Colorado Springs.
A county news release noted that the resolution only applies to unincorporated areas, as the commission cannot set policy for any city in the county, such as Colorado Springs or Fountain.
The Colorado Springs Police Department “will not discuss pending legislation,” spokesman Howard Black said.
Colorado Politics contributed to this article.