‘Red Flag’ Bill Advances After Colorado Senate Debate

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A monument to the Civil War, that includes a reference to the Sand Creek Massacre, in front of the State Capitol building, July 23, 2018.
Photo: Colorado Capitol Building 2018 | West Front - KBeaty - DO NOT REUSE
A monument to the Civil War, that includes a reference to the Sand Creek Massacre, in front of the State Capitol building, July 23, 2018.

Colorado’s Democrat-led Senate debated the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, due process and public safety Friday before advancing a bill that would allow weapons to be seized from people who are determined by a court to pose significant risk.

Another vote approving the bill is needed before it is sent back to the House, which has already approved it, to consider Senate amendments.

Republicans defeated similar legislation in 2018 before they lost control of the Senate in November elections that saw Democrats consolidate statehouse control and retain the governor’s office. They also fought this year’s bill, which places the burden of proof on gun owners to prove in court they do not pose a risk if they want to recover firearms that have been seized.

Florida passed its own extreme risk protection order law after the February 2018 Parkland school massacre, and 12 other states have done so.

Colorado’s legislation would allow family or law enforcement to seek a court order to have guns seized if they believe the owner is a threat. If approved, a subsequent court hearing would be held to determine whether to extend the seizure, up to 364 days.

The bill also would require anyone whose guns are seized to prove that he or she no longer poses a risk in order to get them back.

Republicans repeatedly sought to shift that burden of proof to those seeking a protection order. They argued the legislation doesn’t offer due process to gun owners.

GOP Sen. Jack Tate called for adding language strengthening the right to seek legal action and court costs for gun owners who are victims of false or malicious complaints. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg offered an amendment to require a psychological evaluation and report to a judge before a protection order can be issued.

Democrats rejected both motions.

“This isn’t about mental health. This is a gun grab,” Sonnenberg said.

Democratic Sen. Mike Foote countered: “The due process in this bill is extensive.” He insisted anyone seeking a protection order has to offer “a preponderance of evidence” of risk at an initial court hearing and “clear and convincing evidence” to obtain an order.

“I care more about life, quite frankly, more than I care about property,” said Democratic Sen. Lois Court, arguing the bill would reduce suicides by firearm among adults and youth.

GOP Sen. Larry Crowder said that many county sheriffs or county commissions have threatened to ignore any court order if the bill becomes law. He also noted that Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser had warned last week that it’s a sheriff’s duty to honor court orders involving the seizure of guns

“Those who can’t support the Second Amendment are the ones who should resign in this state,” Crowder thundered Friday.

Several law enforcement officials have testified for the bill, which is named after Zackari Parrish, a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy who was killed in a New Year’s Eve 2017 shooting by a man who had exhibited increasingly erratic behavior.

For a second consecutive day, Senate Republicans briefly stalled consideration of the legislation to protest Democrats’ fast-tracking of it and bills to curb oil and gas drilling, pledge Colorado’s presidential electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, create a $1 billion state paid family leave program and repeal the death penalty, among other measures.

Democrats in both chambers have held quickly scheduled and late-night bill hearings and even, in the Senate, insisted on doing business during a March 13 blizzard.

GOP Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs insisted that the Senate clerk on Friday read the entire journal of Thursday’s chamber proceedings — individual votes, motions, amendments approved, amendments lost.

Hill did the same on Thursday — and had several bills read at length — to protest what he called a Democratic mindset “that the ends justify the means.” The reading procedures are routinely dispensed with in floor deliberations, but they are permitted by the Colorado Constitution.

As Friday’s debate drew to a close, Hill requested that the 33-page red flag bill be read aloud. The Senate reader, Andrew Carpenter, did so. It took half an hour.