Letter: Red flag law flaws
Rohn Robbins did a column about Colorado’s red flag law. He likes it. I don’t.
This law establishes a court proceeding for taking guns away from persons who may be a danger to themselves or others. There is a case to be made for some remedy to deal with such situations. But the present Colorado law has problems.
For one thing, court proceedings can be started by “a family or household member.” That term is defined to include blood relatives of any degree, co-habitants, co-parents, domestic partners and someone in an intimate relationship with the accused. No police investigation is required. Just a sworn statement by someone in this category. It is asking a lot of human nature to expect that emotional problems unrelated to danger could not prompt claims under this law. The remedy is to require that law enforcement investigate any claims of dangerous behavior, and determine if a court proceeding is needed.
It could be a simple mistake that no one checked out adequately. Take the case of Stephen Nichols, an 84-year-old retired police officer now working as a school crossing guard in Rhode Island. A waitress in a diner misunderstood part of a conversation Nichols was having and instigated a red flag law proceeding that had Nichols’ firearms taken from him. He had been complaining to a friend about the security forces at the local school, but the waitress picked up some fragments of the conversation that made her think he was threatening a school shooting. For details, google Stephen Nichols red flag law.
The next problem is that an order to surrender weapons can be issued “ex parte,” which means that the gun owner is not given notice and opportunity to appear and present a defense. There is such a hearing later, but by then the damage is done. There may be some limited situations where such one-sided action is called for; but not always.
David Kopel is a University of Denver law professor who has been involved in the red flag law issue. He appeared before a Senate committee to testify. He has written and spoken a lot about Colorado’s version. This ex parte issue is something he presents interesting views about. Google David Kopel red flag law, and you will get a list of items where his views are presented. A good one is a YouTube of a public television interview, where he covers this and other aspects of the subject.
Another problem is that only firearms are covered. What about other dangerous weapons? If someone is threatening to stab people, or drive his pickup through the Fourth of July parade, shouldn’t this law provide relief? Bomb makers should be subject to having their chemistry equipment seized. Remember the Boston Marathon bombers. Other shooting incidents have involved explosives as well as firearms.
Another problem — Colorado’s red flag law does not provide for cases where law enforcement serves a court order for confiscation and the gun owner simply refuses to comply. This is a touchy situation in any case, but without clear direction, it creates problems for law enforcement. The Colorado Sun did a piece about this that is in the Dec. 4 issue of the Vail Daily.
The Colorado law has produced a lot of opposition, with sheriffs saying they are not going to enforce red flag court orders; and counties declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. Robbins does not approve: “They simply don’t get to choose which laws they like — and therefore defend — and those that they don’t.” One wonders if Robbins would apply the same disapproval to sanctuary cities, counties and states where the issue is illegal immigrants.