State Attorney General Phil Weiser told gun control advocates Tuesday that despite some sheriffs threatening not to enforce the state’s new “red flag” law, he believes they will rethink that decision when faced with the realities of an armed and potentially dangerous person.
“It won’t be an abstraction,” Weiser said, during a panel of lawmakers hosted by Colorado Ceasefire and Colorado Faith Communities United to End Gun Violence. “It's ‘my daughter Susie is thinking about taking her life, and she has procured weapons, can we do something my sheriff?’ And at that point, it's not rhetoric, it's human life.”
Weiser and House Majority Leader Alec Garnett are working together on the details for implementation.
The law, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2020, will allow judges to issue Extreme Risk Protection Orders at the request of family members or law enforcement. It would require police to temporarily remove guns from a person they fear could be dangerous or suicidal.
Critics say the law goes too far in infringing on Second Amendment rights and doesn’t do enough to protect the due process rights of gun owners. Gun rights groups have held sessions for firearms owners around the state, warning them of ways they believe the law could be abused.
Some sheriffs have said they will not enforce it and a number of county commissions have passed resolutions to prevent local law enforcement from carrying out ERPOs.
“Almost all those ordinances say the following, ‘we don’t want our sheriff in our county to implement an unconstitutional gun law’ to which I have always said in those counties, ‘I don’t either,’” Weiser said. “And the extreme risk protection law is constitutional and will be upheld.”
A Second Amendment rights group has challenged the law in court, arguing state lawmakers violated legislative rules when they passed it. Weiser has asked for that suit to be dismissed.
Weiser said if a sheriff refused to comply with a judge’s ERPO, he could be held in contempt of court. In that situation, Weiser’s office would defend the judge if the sheriff appealed the decision.
State Rep. Garnett said he is working with law enforcement to give them maximum flexibility on how to retrieve the guns once an ERPO is handed down from a judge. That includes allowing law enforcement, with a warrant, to go into a house when someone isn’t home.
Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son died in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, said Colorado’s soaring suicide rate is a good reason to get the controversial ERPO law right.
“This is something that will save lives. Maybe not in the situation that affected my son Alex,” he said while sharing a stage with Weiser. “But three-quarters of the people in this state who died by gun violence died by suicide ... We can do something about that.”