The red-flag gun bill is quite the hot topic in Colorado. But gun control is always a fight waiting to happen. Let’s look at both sides.
The red-flag gun bill is also known as HB 19 — 1177 — Extreme Risk Protection Orders. This bill would allow a judge to order firearms to be removed from someone found to be a danger to themselves or others.
In court, petitioners — most often a family or household member — must prove that a defendant poses a significant risk to self or others related to gun ownership. Gun ownership in this context relates to custody, control and possessing, purchasing, or receiving a firearm. Law enforcement can petition for this kind of ruling as well.
According to the bill, guns can be seized without the person named in the order appearing in court and without notice. Furthermore, family members accompanied by law enforcement can forcibly enter a place and seize a citizen’s property with no evidence of a crime. If granted, the protection order keeps the person named in it from legally possessing, controlling, purchasing or receiving a firearm for a year.
I understand why so many are for the bill. When we look at our Colorado history of mass shootings, we wish that we could have grabbed guns from the shooters before they hurt others. Tom Mauser — the father of a student who was slain in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting says a “red flag” law is essential for Colorado.
Mauser has support. Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock is on record as saying, “People kill themselves every day with their own guns because they’re mentally ill, because they have a serious crisis at that time and the family members know about it, family members and friends know about it, but there’s no way to help them,” he continues “This bill will help them.”
I also understand why so many are against the bill. Cries of “unconstitutional” ring in the air. The Second Amendment is a clearly defined right in our country. Dave Kopel, a Second Amendment expert, says the gun owner shouldn’t have to prove that they deserve the right to possess guns. As a movement begins in our state for sanctuary counties, there certainly seem to be many who agree with him as well.
I think that our attention is focused in the wrong place when it comes to the red-flag gun bill.
There is not a single place in the bill where the mental illness on the part of the defendant is addressed. No treatment is required or even suggested. That is not the right way to handle people who pose a danger to themselves or others.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder says that the red-flag bill “completely misses the mark” as it “focuses on the tool instead of the crisis that brings the thing before the judge.” He is right. We aren’t following established justice models proven to work in cases involving mental illness.
In Drug Court, Homeless Court, or Veterans Court case management is a part of plea deals and sentencing. Ongoing treatment of mental illness is required.
In the Pikes Peak region, 50 percent or more of those in jail here in El Paso County suffer from mental illness. Consequently, our county has begun pushing inmates to achieve and maintain mental health. Our county is looking to encourage more community-based treatment where offenders receive treatment from providers who can help them whether they are in jail or released back into the community.
Maybe we should just vote down this bill. We can write or sponsor others that push for treating the root of the gun violence problem among mentally ill defendants. We can remove guns, but without helping defendants who have mental health issues, we are hitting at a tack on the wall with a sledgehammer.
The red-flag bill is the wrong tool, and we’re using it the wrong way. We are hitting in the wrong place. And as we use this tool, we will create a big mess.
Mark my words.