On Tuesday, Feb. 26 Fremont County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution designating it as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.” The action appears to be in response to Colorado House Bill 19-1177, “Extreme Risk Protection Orders,” more commonly known in Colorado as the “Red Flag” Bill. It may be that Fremont County is the first county in Colorado to become a Second Amendment Sanctuary County.
This bill is one of dozens of similar bills being drafted by states around the nation. Colorado HB 19-1177 is similar to many of these laws, in that it allows law enforcement the ability to temporarily confiscate firearms from persons who have either committed a certain crime and/or exhibit mental disorders with the propensity to cause harm to themselves or others. These crimes and disorders become “red flags” to investigators, family members and mental health professionals, which is why they are often referred to as “Red Flag” laws which allow quicker action to prevent them from harming themselves or others.
According to comments made to the Canon City Daily Record, Fremont County Commissioner Board Chair Dwayne McFall said proposed HB 19-1177 does away with due process and violates the Second Amendment. The board’s resolution provides official support for the Fremont County Sheriff if he chooses not to enforce the provisions of the bill if it becomes law. Additionally, the resolution states, “this board will not authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing a law that unconstitutionally infringes on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
In comments made to The Daily Record, Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said he “cannot support this bill as it is currently written.” Cooper said that he would support another revised bill but it would have to be written so as not to infringe on citizens’ constitutional rights. But he appeared to understand the need for certain parts of the bill. “We do need something in place to deal with people who have mental health issues,” said Cooper. “We are very, very quick to pass laws that have a ripple effect far outside the scope of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Given the significance of this resolution by a sister county, Ark Valley Voice spoke with the Chaffee County Sheriff and a Chaffee County Commissioner on whether such actions might also occur in Chaffee County.
“My position is that if the red flag bill passes — it’s a tool and I will utilize it,” said Sheriff John Spezze. “It’s something we’ve need for a long time and I will use it.”
Commissioner Keith Baker said he was aware of HB 19-1177 but wants to, “Focus our efforts on what the bill says, identify our concerns with the bill and try to get them addressed or amended and [then] decide to support or oppose.” Baker said that he had not had a chance to discuss it more in-depth with Spezze.
Spezze provided some context for the actions taken in Fremont County. “The thing people need to understand about the Fremont County decision to become a Second Amendment Sanctuary County, is that the commissioners have no control over the sheriff. This is an elected position and it’s my decision what to use and what to enforce, not theirs,” said Spezze. “But that said, when the people behind the last version of the red flag bill tried to pass it, I told them I would support it then, and I will now.”
As for others in the state that support or oppose HB 19-1177, last Thursday Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock attended the Colorado House Judiciary committee meeting at the capital in support of the HB 19-1177. Spurlock said, “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, but there’s no way to help them. This bill will help them.” The bill was named after one of Spurlock’s deputies who was killed by a mentally ill man in 2017.
Spezze’s view agreed with Spurlock. “The Red Flag bill, if it passes, is a good tool for us. Look, it’s not intrusive on the Second Amendment – its a court order, it still has to be approved by a judge, it sunsets after 365 days and we need something like this,” said Spezze. “We had a situation in the county where a man was shooting up the neighborhood and terrorizing his family. We learned he had a disease affecting his thinking. We had to find a way to get the guns out of the house. Once they treated him, he went back to a normal state of mind. But he was a danger to his neighbors before they treated him.”
On the other hand, Republican George Brauchler and current District Attorney of the 18th Judicial District, who supported a similar bill last year now opposes this one. Brauchler testified that the current bill is “Too far left of a right idea. I believe law enforcement should have a surgical tool. This bill does too much.”
Many other western states county commissions and city councils have adopted resolutions making them Second Amendment Sanctuary counties and cities. Nearly all are in response to the proposed “Red Flag” laws or other gun restriction legislation that have spread across the country in recent months. At least 22 of the 33 counties in New Mexico have adopted the sanctuary status in opposition to the two proposed gun restriction bills in the New Mexico state legislature.
For his part, Spezze said he won’t hesitate to enforce the bill. “You see, my duty is to use all the tools I have to protect the people. If the Red flag bill passes, I’ll use it. I think it is a good law enforcement tool.”
Managing Editor Jan Wondra also contributed to this article.