El Paso County — the state’s largest and home to more than 45,500 concealed-carry permits — plans to sue if a red-flag gun bill making its way through the Legislature becomes law, Sheriff Bill Elder said Thursday.
The county commissioners will vote Tuesday on a resolution declaring the county a “Second Amendment preservation county.”
At least four other Colorado counties — Weld, Montezuma, Fremont and Custer — have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries in response to the proposal.
Teller County commissioners approved a resolution Thursday affirming the county “fully supports the Second Amendment rights of all Teller County citizens and will endeavor to protect the inalienable and individual right to keep and bear arms in Teller County.”
The red-flag bill, officially known as the Extreme Risk Protection Orders, would allow a judge to order the confiscation of firearms from someone found to be a danger to themselves or others.
Unlike the other counties, though, Elder said his deputies will enforce court orders if the bill, which already has passed the state House, is approved by the Senate and signed by the governor.
He said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I want the constitutional question answered, and I suspect that what would happen is under a constitutional challenge, it would get overturned,” Elder said.
Under House Bill 1177, a family or household member or law enforcement officer could petition a court for a temporary “extreme risk protection order” if they can demonstrate that a person poses a significant risk to themselves or others by possessing a firearm.
A second hearing would be held within 14 days, at which “clear and convincing evidence” would have to show that the person remains a danger.
Weapons could then be held for up to 364 days while the person from whom they were taken seeks treatment, which can be ordered by the court under the bill.
Once the temporary order is issued, all weapons must be turned over to law enforcement or a federally licensed firearm dealer. To recover the weapons, the person must prove they are no longer a danger, using a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
The bill “infringes upon the inalienable rights of the citizens of unincorporated El Paso County,” the resolution the commissioners plan to vote on next week states.
According to the resolution, the red-flag bill would let family members and law enforcement petition to seize a person’s guns without them present in court and without notice.
It would order officers to “forcibly enter premises and seize a citizen’s property with no evidence of a crime” and shifts “the burden of proof to gun owners accused under this law to prove themselves not a danger by clear and convincing evidence after an order for removal,” the resolution says.
Elder said the bill “completely misses the mark” and fails to address the community’s mental health crisis. Instead, he said, it “focuses on the tool instead of the crisis that brings the thing before the judge.”
Officers also would be placed at risk enforcing the court’s orders to seize weapons, he said.
“If the recipient, the accused, is in need of mental health help because they’re in crisis, and we’re going to go take their guns, that is a really dangerous situation, which means we’re going to have to have an elevated layer of response,” Elder said. “When that happens, we are more likely than not going to be in an armed confrontation with someone who really needs mental health help.
“They are not charged with a crime. Is that the mission that we want for law enforcement? I just don’t think that it is.”
The bill also would be an unfunded mandate, siphoning resources from regular law enforcement duties, Elder said.
The resolution states the commissioners and sheriff intend to take legal action “to protect the Second Amendment rights of all lawful gun owners in the state, and not just in El Paso County. We invite all like-minded counties to join us in this effort.”
The commissioners demand “that the Legislature cease and desist any further actions restricting the Second Amendment rights of citizens and instead address the real and fundamental challenges of mental illness in our communities.”
The resolution also says that the board is agreeing “not to appropriate funds, resources, employees or agencies to initiate unconstitutional seizures in unincorporated El Paso County” and pledging support for the sheriff “and decisions he or she makes to refuse to initiate unconstitutional actions against citizens.”
Commissioners will vote on the resolution during the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, which begins at 9 a.m. in Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave.