Colorado gun rights group, GOP members sue to block gun law
DENVER (AP) — Republican lawmakers and a Colorado gun rights group filed a lawsuit Thursday to block a “red flag” law allowing courts to order firearms taken away from people who pose a danger, arguing that House Democrats violated a section of the state constitution governing the legislative process.
The lawsuit targeting how the bill arrived on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk is the first step in the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners’ legal strategy, said the group’s executive director, Dudley Brown. Other lawsuits aimed at the substance of the law and efforts to recall legislators who supported it are in the works, he said.
“We’re going to do all of the above,” Brown said. “We believe that the red flag bill is unconstitutional itself.”
Colorado’s law allows family, household members or law enforcement to petition a court to have guns seized or surrendered. If a court grants the petition, a subsequent court hearing could extend a gun seizure up to 364 days. It takes effect in January.
Polis’ April signing ceremony made Colorado the 15th state with a similar process. Florida passed its own “extreme risk protection order” law after the 2018 Parkland school massacre.
Colorado’s law places the burden of proof on the gun owner to get the firearms back by showing that he or she no longer poses a risk. That condition was a particular sticking point for gun rights activists and minority Republicans in the Legislature, who unsuccessfully tried to shift the burden of proof to the petitioner.
The lawsuit’s backers said it focuses on Democrats’ failure to read the bill’s entire text during floor debate at GOP members’ request.
When one lawmaker requested a reading, multiple clerks read sections of the bill simultaneously, they said. A second representative’s request that the bill be read was denied, they said.
The effort follows a successful legal challenge by Senate Republicans in March, which ultimately blocked Democrats in that chamber from using a computer program to read bill text aloud simultaneously on multiple laptops. In that case, a Denver judge ruled that bills had to be read “in an intelligible and comprehensive manner, and at an understandable speed.”
The House Democrats’ majority leader, though, said the attack on the gun law’s passage is baseless. Rep. Alec Garnett said the bill was being read on the floor until a Republican lawmaker withdrew that request.
“This is not about what happened during the debate,” Garnett said. “This is about the gun lobby trying to unwind a popular measure to help save and protect lives in Colorado.”
The law is named after Zackari Parrish, a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy who was killed in a 2017 shooting by a man who had exhibited increasingly erratic behavior. The measure also is personal for one of its co-sponsors. First-term Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan’s son, Alex, was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater massacre that left 12 people dead and 70 others wounded.
It is Colorado’s most significant legislation on firearms since 2013, when lawmakers enacted background checks and ammunition magazine limits following the Aurora and Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shootings. Two Democrats were recalled and another resigned for voting in favor of those laws.