Thistlethwaite: We need a ‘red flag’ law in Colorado (column)
I want to live in a society where I don’t have to fear that one of my children, my grandchildren, my loved ones or my neighbors and friends would lose their lives to gun violence. Don’t you?
Yet, we in Colorado know all too well that a lot of work is still needed to prevent gun violence. Two of the largest mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred here, and many lives have been lost to gun homicide, often domestic homicide. I want to live in a state where gun homicide can be prevented.
I also want to live in a state where those who need help receive treatment instead of being left to feel there is no other way for them but to end their own lives. In 2017, Colorado had the 10th-highest suicide rate in the nation, and the majority of those suicides were by gun.
With intervention, many of these tragedies could be prevented. Don’t you want to live in such a state?
That’s why I think we in Colorado need to join with the 13 other states that have passed so-called “red flag” laws and take positive and concrete steps to reduce the risk of the horror of needless deaths and injury being visited upon so many. These bills allow a judge to approve “extreme risk” protection orders that would lead to the removal of any firearm from a gun owner if a family or household member or a law enforcement officer can show that such a person poses a significant risk to themselves or others.
Before 2018, five states had some version of red flag laws. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, that number more than doubled, as more states have enacted such laws.
We have such a bill under consideration here in Colorado, HB1177. This legislation was partly introduced by Rep. Tom Sullivan (D-Centennial). Sullivan’s son, Alex, was one of the 12 people killed during the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, 2012. The man convicted of that crime, James Holmes, pleaded guilty by reason of insanity.
In the bill under consideration in Colorado, a mental health evaluation is a central part of the determination to remove guns from someone who may pose a risk to self or others.
Our Colorado bill is named after Deputy Zackari Parrish, a member of the Douglas County Sheriff’s department, shot and killed in the line of duty. Parrish’s killer had a history of violent threats and dangerous behavior. Law enforcement knew there was a threat, but they did not have the tools to intervene to remove the guns. Had law enforcement been able to issue an Extreme Risk Protection Order, they might have been able to prevent this tragedy at the outset.
On Saturday, there will be an educational event on the proposed bill from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Beaver Creek Room at the Avon Public Library hosted by members of the local Vail Valley chapter of Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense. Speakers will include Rep. Dylan Roberts, House District 26 (Eagle and Routt counties). Roberts will speak to what is actually contained in the bill. Dr. Henry Goetze, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist in Avon, will speak as well. He has been involved with Speak Up Reach Out in Eagle County and, based on his decades of experience as a clinical psychologist, he has written about the crying need for gun control legislation along with “common sense changes to the mental health laws.”
Please come and bring your questions. There is time for you (and for me) to make our views known and to help improve the legislation and the lives of so many in Colorado.
You may read the full bill here: https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2019A/bills/2019a_1177_01.pdf
Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and a professor of theology. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.