In a razor-thin vote of 18 to 17 on Thursday, March 28, the Colorado Senate passed HB19-1177 Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), otherwise known as the “Red Flag Bill.” While the vote ran primarily along party lines, Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Democrat from Pueblo, voted against the bill.
The topic of whether to safeguard the public against people with both mental health issues and access to guns is a public opinion flash point. Under this bill, a family member, a household member, or a law enforcement official could petition a judge for the removal of a person’s firearms. The judge would hold a hearing that would not include the presence of the gun owner, to determine whether to grant a temporary order removing guns for up to 14 days.
The gun owner would have those two weeks to convince the judge why those weapons should be returned, while the family member or law enforcement would have the same amount of time to provide evidence to the judge why they should not be returned. The order could be extended by a judge for up to 364 days.
The bill now heads to the office of Gov. Jared Polis, who has given no indication of his intended action.
In reaction to the bill, dozens of Colorado’s 64 counties have either passed resolutions declaring themselves to be “Sanctuary Counties” or their sheriffs have announced their intent to request such a declaration. The resolutions don’t appear to be identical, but they are overwhelmingly from rural countries.
In heavily Republican Douglas County, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock supports the bill, as does Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. The bill is named after one of Spurlock’s deputies, who died in 2017 when he attempted to negotiate with a man in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze has submitted a written request to Chaffee County Commissioners requesting that the county declare itself a Sanctuary County. At this point, the commissioners appear to have scheduled an executive session on Monday, April 1, to discuss the Red Flag Bill, but they have given no indication that they are going to do any public session to receive citizen comment on whether the county should take the step to actually declare itself a Sanctuary County. Their March 19 public session in Buena Vista about the Red Flag Bill itself drew more than 140 people, most vehemently against the bill.
The declaration of Sanctuary County status is an entirely different step. In a March 28 article about the constitutional issues surrounding county refusals to enforce the bill (https://arkvalleyvoice.com/we-the-people-a-constitutional-examination-of-the-issues-surrounding-the-red-flag-bill/) Ark Valley Voice pointed out that for law enforcement personnel to defy the very document they are sworn to protect does not appear to be logical or constitutional.
Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt sent a letter to the governor, outlining the county’s concerns with the bill as published. He requested that the governor veto the bill as passed and that he convene a statewide commission to review and recommend a bill that would receive collaborative support across the state’s counties and include more focus on mental health services.
Former U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh has also come out in support of the ERPO bill. The Denver Post reported that he characterized the bill as “carefully written,” constitutional and written in a way that he believes protects people’s right to due process.