Governor expected to sign gun bill, despite statewide opposition
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Democratic-controlled Colorado Legislature sent a “red flag” gun bill to the governor’s desk Monday, despite widespread protests from counties and law enforcement officials across the state, including Routt and Moffat counties.
Gov. Jared Polis has already pledged his support for the bill, which passed along party lines from the House of Representatives this week.
The bill allows family members, roommates or law enforcement to petition a court to take away someone’s guns for up to 14 days if a judge decides the person poses a risk to themselves or others.
Democratic lawmakers and supporters of the bill see it as a way to address the state’s growing suicide rate. Colorado lost 1,175 people to suicide in 2017, according to the Colorado Health Institute, which is the highest rate in state history. Guns were involved in more than half of those suicides.
Opponents, including sheriffs from Routt and Moffat counties, argue the bill encroaches on Constitutional rights, namely the Second Amendment and due process.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams went so far as to say he would rather go to jail than enforce the bill.
Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins has not been as extreme in his opposition to the bill, but he echoed the concerns of many who feel that an extreme risk protection order violates Constitutional rights.
If a judge feels that a person still poses a threat after the 14-day protection order, the bill allows that judge to extend the seizure to a year. In that case, burden of proof rests on the gun owner, who must show they do not pose a risk to themselves or others.
As Wiggins pointed out, that deviates from the usual rule of law.
“Our judicial system is designed so that the burden is placed upon the government to prove guilt, not that the accused is required to prove innocence,” he said in an email when lawmakers were still debating the bill.
More than half of the counties in Colorado do not support the bill. Thirty-four counties, including Weld and Moffat, have even passed resolutions declaring themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuary Counties,” in an attempt to skirt enforcement of the legislation. These counties include: Alamosa County, Archuleta County, Baca County, Bent County, Cheyenne County, Conejos County, Crowley County, Custer County, Delta County, Dolores County, Douglas County, El Paso County, Elbert County, Fremont County, Huerfano County, Jackson County, Kiowa County, Kit Carson County, Lincoln County, Logan County, Mineral County, Moffat County, Montezuma County, Montrose County, Otero County (Otero has had a resolution like this since 2013), Park County, Phillips County, Prowers County, Rio Blanco County, Rio Grande County, Sedgwick County, Teller County, Washington County and Weld County.
Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume has heard from several members of the public who support the resolution, and no one has confronted him opposing it.
Like many sheriffs in the state, he sees the red flag bill as an infringement of the Second Amendment. Supporting the bill, as he put it, would require him to violate the oath he took as an elected official to uphold the Constitution.
“It isn’t about guns,” Hume said. “It’s about how our country was founded.”
Sheriff Wiggins also saw a potential for law enforcement agencies to face unfunded mandates if the bill becomes law. Under the language of the legislation, agencies such as his own would bear the responsibility of taking and storing revoked firearms.
Commissioners in Weld County addressed that concern in their sanctuary resolution, saying they would not put money toward building a storage facility for weapons seized by law enforcement.
Thus far, the Board of Routt County Commissioners has not considered enacting a similar resolution.
Commissioner Doug Monger explained that, while he takes issue with the red flag bill, the board has not heard adequate opposition among county residents to justify government action.
“It wasn’t worth lying on the railroad tracks for,” he said.
Monger, a gun owner himself, has grown increasingly upset with what he sees as Democratic bulldozing at the state level, with lawmakers fast-tracking legislation against the will of many Coloradoans.
That was part of the reason he left the party last week and changed his political affiliation to Independent.
Even if Gov. Polis signs the bill into law, it is expected to face legal challenges. But Phil Weiser, the state’s attorney general, had harsh words for the sheriffs who said they wouldn’t enforce it.
“If a sheriff cannot follow the law, the sheriff cannot do his or her job,” he testified before a state Senate committee in March. “The right thing to do for a sheriff who says ‘I can’t follow the law’ is to resign.”
Commissioner Beth Melton said, without a strong outcry from her constituents, she sees no reason to take local government action against the bill.
“For us, it’s not an appropriate role to not enforce a state law,” she said. “That’s not our job.”