Colorado’s State And US Representatives Stake Their Claims On Gun Control After Trump Suggests National ‘Red Flag’ Law

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Rep. Tom Sullivan speaks during a vigil for victims of gun violence on the Capitol steps, Aug. 4, 2019.

While President Donald Trump did not outline major gun control proposals in his address to the nation Monday morning, he did re-up his endorsement of a federal version of a so-called “red flag” gun law.

Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial, whose son Alex was killed in the Aurora Theater Shooting, sponsored Colorado’s new “red flag” law which Governor Polis signed earlier this year. It allows judges to temporarily take away the guns of people deemed a danger to themselves or others. Sullivan was heartened by the possibility of such a policy taking hold across the U.S.

“That’s always what you strive for, is to do things incrementally state by state, community by community, with the eventual goal that it be a nationwide thing,” he said.

Mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif.; Dayton, Ohio; and El Paso, Texas last week killed at least 34 people and injured dozens more.

Sullivan has previously told CPR that he knows “red flag” laws, which are also called Extreme Risk Protection Orders, don’t prevent all gun violence. He even believes the bill he sponsored would not have saved his son. But he says the policy has the potential to reduce violence as, ideally, just one of an array gun control laws.

“It’s not going to stop all mass shootings. It’s not going to stop all suicides. But it certainly will help,” he said.

Colorado’s Republican state politicians had the opposite reaction to Trump’s remarks. Both Rep. Owen Hill, of Colorado Springs, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, of the Eastern Plains, said Colorado's “red flag” law goes against the Constitution and due process.

“So unless we’re willing to say, ‘Let’s get rid of the Constitution, let’s get rid of the concept of innocent until proven guilty,’ we can’t go down this path,” Hill said.

“That, from my perspective, is a violation of the Constitution. I think it’s very clear it’s a violation of the Constitution,” Sonnenberg said. “No matter what we do, we are not going to keep evil people from doing evil things.”

Sullivan called such concerns over due process a “dog whistle” designed to alarm certain people, and compared the state’s power to remove guns from household to its power to remove children from dangerous situations.

“All I’m asking is that these people care as much about their children as they do their guns,” he said.

Colorado's "red flag" law is controversial, it produced a short-lived recall movement against Sullivan and has fueled the ongoing effort to remove Gov. Jared Polis from office.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Janice Hall holds a sign during a vigil for victims of gun violence on the Capitol steps, Aug. 4, 2019.

As for the state’s Congressional delegation, the president’s remarks spurred many of its Democratic House members to call on Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to take action on the issue. They want him to allow a vote on two gun control measures passed by the House earlier this year. 

Both bills aim to strengthen background checks. One would require background checks for weapons transfers between individuals, a policy Colorado already has. The other would give federal agencies more time to conduct a background check, closing the so-called Charleston loophole.

Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora is frustrated because the Senate, “won’t even talk about it.”

”They won’t even put the bills up for a vote. It’s time for them to take action and to join us in leading to address this issue,” he said.

And Boulder Rep. Joe Neguse goes a step further, saying the Senate should come back from its August recess to take up both measures. 

“This is a national emergency and the country is begging to Senate to act, which is why I believe the Senate should immediately reconvene and take up these critical bills that will save countless lives,” Neguse said in a statement.

Crow and Neguse have both co-sponsored red-flag laws in Congress. 

“We have shown in Colorado how common sense things can save lives and respect the Second Amendment,” Crow said. “We can take that same example and extend it to America and save thousands of lives.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton called for action after the weekend's shootings, but did not mention the bills waiting in the Senate.

“We must do a better job of teaching compassion for life, speaking out against hate, ensuring there are abundant resources for disturbed individuals who seek to harm themselves or others, and that laws and systems are in place and enforced to prevent high-risk individuals from accessing guns," Tipton said in a statement.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet has also called on McConnell to bring the Senate back to vote on the House bills. 

“[Bennet believes] Washington should look to Colorado, where we have closed loopholes and helped prevent guns from landing in the wrong hands,” Bennet spokesperson Courtney Gidner said. 

However, Bennet does not believe that gun control legislation and immigration reform should be tied together, as Trump pitched in a series of tweets Monday morning. The President did not bring up the idea in his speech.

“The President’s conflation of gun safety legislation and immigration reform demonstrates his complete lack of comprehension and understanding of what needs to be done to address the gun violence epidemic in this country,” Bennet's office said in a statement.