Colorado Gun Rights Group Files Lawsuit Over ‘Red Flag’ Law

· May 2, 2019, 9:43 pm
Photo: RMGO Gun Bill Suit | Attorney Barry Arrington - APAP
Barry Arrington, front, an attorney representing the gun advocacy group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, speaks as a handful of Republican lawmakers, from back left, representatives Dave Williams, Stephen Humphrey and Patrick Neville, look on as plans are outlined to file a lawsuit to block a "red flag" law, May 2, 2019, in Denver.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners filed a  lawsuit Thursday over the “red flag” gun law, arguing that the House Democrats violated the legislative process.

Head of the gun rights group Dudley Brown and several House Republicans say Democrats who control the House did not fulfill a Republican request to read the bill out loud in full in an intelligible way.

“In this case, Democrats didn’t see that they were violating the Constitution to pass a bill to violate the Constitution. And now they’re going to see it,” Brown said.

Other lawsuits could be aimed at the substance of the law and efforts to recall legislators who supported it are in the works, he said.

"We're going to do all of the above," Brown said. "We believe that the red flag bill is unconstitutional itself."

A week after the bill was read, Senate Republicans filed a lawsuit about that same issue on a different bill, when Democratic leaders set up a bank of five computers to read a lengthy bill in an unintelligible way. A Denver District Court judge ultimately sided with the GOP and said bill readings have to be understandable.

Democrats said the lawsuit against HB 19-1177 is frivolous.

“No one came to me on the floor and said that they wanted the chair to do anything differently than what had been done,” Sen. Majority Leader Alec Garnett said. “This is not about what happened on the floor. This is about the gun lobby trying to unwind a very popular measure to help protect and save lives here in Colorado because they liked to build their name recognition and like to be in the news.”

An extreme risk protection order would allow family or law enforcement to petition a court to remove someone’s guns for up to a year if they are a danger to themselves or others. It goes into effect in 2020. More than a dozen states have a similar law on the books.

Last legislative session an extreme risk protection order bill failed. The law is named for Zackari Parrish III, a Douglas County Sheriff deputy who was killed by a mentally ill man in 2017 who opened fire on law enforcement at his apartment. The current sheriff, Tony Spurlock, a stronger backer of the bill, said law enforcement knew for weeks that the shooter, Matthew Riehl, was in a mental health crisis.

Still the issue has split law enforcement and earned opposition from every Republican lawmaker.

It’s already leading to potential recall efforts and legal challenges. There are several sheriffs who say they won’t enforce the law.

“Just taking someone's firearms away and leaving them in place doesn't solve the problem in my mind,” Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams told CPR’s Colorado Matters. “It could actually make it worse in some scenarios. And you know, we're just, we're kicking the can down the road to deal with the mental health issue.”

A big sticking point for critics is that the burden of proof would be on gun owners to get their firearms back by showing that they’re no longer a risk. Reams said he’s willing to go to jail, rather than follow a court’s order to seize someone’s guns.  

“The very real threat exists that innocent people will be stigmatized as dangerous to the public when they’re not. I have seen this happen with veterans and friends of mine that I served with in the military,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville. “People who actually need help will be dissuaded from seeking it out of concern about their rights being taken away.”

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