By: Robert Davis
After a marathon hearing, the Colorado House Judiciary Committee just moved House Bill 1177, the state’s pending red flag gun confiscation law, further along on its way to the governor’s desk.
The law would allow police officers and family members to petition a court to force someone they deem to be dangerous to surrender his or her weapons and undergo involuntary treatment for mental illness.
HB1177 passed to the appropriations committee along a 7-4 party line vote yesterday. The hearing took nearly 10 hours, eight of which involved testimony for and against the bill.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle supported the bill. His son was injured while assisting Zackari Parrish, a police officer killed in 2017 by a veteran suffering from PTSD, for whom the bill is named, on New Year’s Eve, 2017.
“Gun violence is an issue that comes up constantly,” Pelle said at the hearing. “We absolutely know when and how the time is right to use the courts to help us relieve the situation and make our communities, and our officers, safer.”
The Colorado Sheriffs Association (CSA) is taking a member-wide vote to determine whether or not it will continue to support the bill. The CSA told Gunpowder Magazine it is unsure when the vote will occur, and have no further comments to share about the bill at this time.
Association President Sheriff Tony Spurlock of Douglas County, and Parrish’s former boss, has previously voiced support for this bill.
“We need to get people who are a danger to our communities in a place where they can get help and get treatment,” Spurlock said during a Valentine’s Day news conference. “And also, temporarily remove firearms from their access so it minimizes the possibility of a disaster occurring.”
John Anderson, a retired commander at the Castle Rock Police Department, pushed back against these claims by noting the bill would turn Colorado into a police state.
“I don’t think this is something our citizens want,” Anderson testified. “These types of calls can go very wrong, very quickly.”
Other sheriffs, such as Steve Reams of Weld County and former candidate for Attorney General George Brauchler, also voiced opposition to the bill.
“There is no doubt a mental health crisis in our country,” Sheriff Reams testified. “But this bill does absolutely nothing to help address mental health services and is instead a gun control bill loosely disguised as a mental health bill.”
Brauchler said the intent of the idea is well placed, but the practical workings of this bill are “too far left of a right idea.
“I believe law enforcement should have a surgical tool to reduce gun violence,” Brauchler testified. “This bill does too much.”
Under the current bill, someone who is deemed an “extreme risk” could have their weapons taken away via a court order for “up to 364 days.” However, there is no mention of how many times a petitioner can ask the court to extend that probation period.
The person deemed to be a risk would also have to prove he or she is no longer poses a threat to society in order to get his or her guns back.
Brauchler initially supported the bill in 2018 when people could lose their weapons for up to six months. Now he says the evidentiary standards for taking away someone’s weapons is too low.
“If you’re going to increase the penalty and take away someone’s weapons, then you need to increase the standards,” Brauchler said.
Current Attorney General Phil Weiser voiced support for the bill in a letter he wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Weissman.
“What is essential to keep in mind is that HB19-1177 is designed to save lives, and that it will save lives. According to one study that evaluated ERPOs (Extreme Risk Protection Orders) in other states, researchers estimated that one life was saved for every 10 to 20 ERPOs issued by the court,” the letter reads.
Weiser also cited the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller as precedent for his beliefs, arguing that the decision allows for “reasonable restrictions on categories of persons, including those struggling with mental illness, are permissible under the Second Amendment.”
In the majority opinion, the late Justice Antonin Scalia references restrictions for the types of weapons in certain cases—including military weapons being used in a non-military fashion—and argues any restrictions should “have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia.”
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners President Dudley Brown delivered three boxes containing more than 10,000 petitions from gun rights advocates asking the committee not to support the bill.
Included with the petitions was a letter reminding Democrats on the committee that two members of Senate were recalled in 2013 after passing the gun control laws.
GPM recently reported that Republicans have openly threatened to use recall measures against Democrats if the Extreme Risk Protection Order passes.
Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. You can contact him with tips or comments at [email protected] or on Twitter @Davisonthebeat.