Letter: The inalienable right not to get shot | VailDaily.com

Letter: The inalienable right not to get shot

I am writing to disagree with Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek’s objections to the Extreme Risk Protection Order, the so-called “red-flag law,” recently signed into law by Governor Polis. 

The sheriff, in a lengthy Facebook post, raises concerns that are preponderantly about gun owners’ rights, such as when and how “his property is taken away from him.” In fact, the word “property” occurs very frequently in the sheriff’s post.

That is misguided in my view. From a public safety perspective, the overarching emphasis should be on the safety of the public, not on what amounts to the temporary holding of property.  

It should be strongly emphasized that this law requires that first a judge must rule on a temporary Extreme Risk Protection Order on a complaint with sufficient, documented concern that someone poses an extreme risk to themselves and/or others through firearm possession. The firearms are then held, i.e. not confiscated ad infinitum, and the law provides immediate opportunity (two weeks), including a lawyer paid for by the state if necessary, for the person served with the Extreme Risk Protection Order to argue to the contrary. This falls well within the commonly accepted definition of due process  as appropriate legal protections and safeguards. No one is being deprived of due process, in other words.  

After every mass shooting, after suicides, or after a spouse is shot by a domestic abuser, people always ask, “Could this have been prevented?” Those of us working to get modest prevention measures in place, such as this current legislation, are doing just that. This law permits a judge to issue an Extreme Risk Protection Order to temporarily hold the guns of someone who poses an extreme risk.

Indeed, this law is a very modest attempt to deal with the carnage that has resulted from the huge number of firearms in our country. Most estimates put the number of guns as higher than the number of people. The presence of so many weapons has made the United States a staggeringly unsafe place to live, with over 37,000 gun deaths per annum.

The sheriff’s Facebook post cites what he contends are constitutional issues regarding the Extreme Risk Protection Law, but he privileges property over life. That is not, in my view, a proper perspective when it comes to public safety, or the U.S. Constitution.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence declares that the Creator has endowed us with certain inalienable rights, and these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Property rights are not mentioned.

As both a citizen and a person of faith, I believe that life is an inalienable moral principle that guides our nation and the interpretation of the constitution, and is an overarching value. We have a right to life, and that is more important than holding someone’s guns for a while as they receive mental health evaluation and treatment if necessary, and that, only after a judge has ruled it necessary as they pose an extreme risk to themselves and/or others.

And let us be crystal clear. That extreme risk is the risk of death or injury to a human being or human beings.

Finally, I also have a problem with the form in which the sheriff chose to express his views. I do not believe posting to Facebook only after a law is passed and signed is a helpful way to inform a public conversation on how a law should be written.

Most importantly, however, I think we should focus on the safety of the people who live in this country, and not put property ahead of life.  

Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite


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