Vail police chief, state rep back new version of red flag gun-safety bill
Special to the Daily
Local policymakers and law enforcement officials are once again supporting a red-flag law that would make it easier for police to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. This time around it has a better chance of becoming law.
During a press conference at the state capitol in Denver on Thursday – the one-year anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, shooting – lawmakers rolled out a revamped version of a proposed law that passed the Democrat-controlled House last year but was killed in the Republican Senate.
Now Democrats control both chambers, and Democratic state Rep. Dylan Roberts – a local prosecutor who represents Eagle and Routt counties in the legislature – says he hopes to once again co-sponsor the bill establishing a process for so-called “Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO’s).”
A suicide prevention bill
“This is just as much of a gun violence prevention bill as it is a suicide prevention bill,” Roberts said. “[ERPO’s] are a responsible way to temporarily remove firearms from individuals in crisis, provide them with due process, and create a safe mechanism for their return.”
Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger testified in favor of the bill last legislative session, and he attended the press conference announcing the reintroduction of the legislation Thursday.
Last year Henninger mentioned the 2009 case of West Vail shooter Richard “Rossi” Moreau, who murdered Carbondale physician Gary Bruce Kitching and shot several others in a West Vail bar. But Henninger says suicide by gun is just as much of a concern as a random shooter.
“I just know so many cases where people had access to guns and decided to use them to commit suicide, and the lethality of choosing that weapon and having access to it … we’ve got to do something to change that,” Henninger said.
Roberts agrees, tying the legislation to mental health treatment.
“Particularly in rural communities like ours where law enforcement and mental health resources are sparse, legislation like this is badly needed to save lives and prevent suicide,” Roberts said.
Democratic House Majority Leader Alec Garnett is once again the prime sponsor of the bill, and he’s joined by newly-elected Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan of Littleton, who lost his son in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012.
“This is why I’m here,” Sullivan said in a release. “I’m here to help save lives and to make sure what happened to my family and my son doesn’t happen to others … I wear my son Alex’s jacket every single day I come to the state capitol. Watching your child’s body drop into the ground is as bad as it gets.”
The bill, HB19-1177, will again be named for Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Zackari Parrish, who was killed by a mentally ill man on New Year’s Eve of 2017.
Vail police chief’s involvement
Henninger said he’s been providing input on the bill since it was first introduced, joining with the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police to improve it. New in this version is a 364-day holding period for the order instead of six months, with an option for a second judicial hearing after an initial hearing before a judge determines an ERPO should be issued.
The new version of the bill also includes funding for legal representation and a pool of lawyers who can counsel people during the ERPO hearing process.
“It seems to be a real no-brainer to me,” Henninger said. “Most people think we can already do this, and maybe in the past, we have taken weapons without any real authority and then the judge says, ‘You’ve got to give those back.’ So this is kind of operationalizing and giving legal authority to officers that most people think [we already have].”
Last year the bill had the support of Republican sheriffs in Douglas and El Paso counties, as well as from Republican Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter and last year unsuccessfully ran for Colorado attorney general.
The changes to the law this year, besides including more law-enforcement input, also make it more in line with the 13 other states that have adopted similar legislation, Henninger said. Still, he expects plenty of opposition again this year.
“Any bill that has anything to do with guns and, in this case, gun violence, there are people who are very concerned about the issues, and it’s never an easy situation,” Henninger said. “But I really think this is a suicide prevention bill.”
He added that, even as Congress remains gridlocked on the issue, this kind of legislation is more effective at the state level anyway. Roberts argued red-flag bills really should have bipartisan support.
“Thirteen other states, both blue and red, have passed bipartisan ERPO laws that work while respecting the Second Amendment and due process rights,” Roberts said.