Attorney General Phil Weiser Argues Red Flag Law Not Being Used Enough In Colorado

Handguns Display
Charlie Riedel/AP
Handguns for sale are lined up in a display case, Dec. 21, 2018.

State Attorney General Phil Weiser said Colorado’s red flag law isn’t being used enough.

The vast majority of Colorado’s red-flag petitions filed in the first year were by law enforcement officers against people threatening mass shootings, suicide and intimate partner violence, according to a report issued Wednesday by the state Department of Law.

In 2020, the first full year of implementation of the law, 100 petitions were filed. Of those, courts issued 66 temporary orders and 49 orders that lasted 364 days. 

Colorado’s red flag law, passed by lawmakers in 2019, allows a judge to issue an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” that bans someone from possessing firearms for up to 364 days if a judge finds that person poses a significant risk of hurting themselves or others.

Only law enforcement, or a family member or household member of the person may file a red flag petition.

“It is working the way it’s envisioned to work,” Weiser said on Wednesday. “The cases we saw happen were people who were at real risk. The biggest area of improvement we see is getting the word out so people know that this is an available procedure.”

In 2020, roughly a dozen petitions were denied — either because the petition was filed in the wrong county or lacked firearm-specific allegations.

Data from the first year shows that petitioners used the red flag procedures fewer than 125 times. Law enforcement filed the majority of red flag petitions and were largely the most successful when they went to court --  85 percent of petitions filed by law enforcement resulted in 364-day orders. 

Weiser points out that petitions filed against people who wanted to violate someone’s rights to own a firearm were swiftly tossed out by judges.

One such case in Fort Collins was filed by Susan Holmes, the mother of Jeremy Holmes, who was killed by a Colorado State University police officer in 2017. Susan Holmes filed a red flag petition against the officer who shot her son, falsely arguing she and the officer shared a child together and therefore was a family member of the officer. 

The state attorney general’s office defended the officer in court on that case, and the red flag request was not granted.

“It’s noteworthy in cases where people were seeking to remove weapons from responsible gun owners … were stopped in their tracks,” Weiser said.

The report noted that courts granted red flag petitions filed by law enforcement at a much higher rate than petitions filed by a family or household member. 

Colorado is one of at least 18 states that have adopted some version of the red flag law. State lawmakers passed it in wake of the shooting of Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy Zackari Parrish III — who was shot in 2017 and killed by a mentally ill person. The shooter fired roughly 100 rounds, killing Parrish and injuring four other officers.

For weeks leading up to the shooting, law enforcement officers knew the shooter was experiencing a mental health crisis and had firearms inside his apartment.

Weiser said he hopes to work on public awareness around the law so more people who suspect a family member may be homicidal or suicidal can petition to remove firearms from the troubled person’s home.

“The red flag law remains novel in Colorado,” the report said. “Many Coloradans are unaware that the red flag law exists, while others, especially individuals who are not members of law enforcement, know of the red flag law, but may struggle to understand and navigate the legal process required to obtain an order.”