It’s been causing controversy for months in Colorado, and now the state’s “red flag” law, or Extreme Risk Protection Order, is officially in effect. Beginning on January 1st, law enforcement and family members can petition a judge to issue an order requiring the surrender of all legally owned firearms, which, if granted, would require the subject of the order to hand over their firearms to police before they’ve ever had a chance to present their side in court.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams has said he’ll go to jail rather than enforce the statute, but even sheriffs that haven’t gone that far say there are real problems with the new law, as the Loveland Reporter-Herald recently noted.
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith was more critical. Smith has not said he will refuse to enforce the law, like some sheriffs, but he told the Reporter-Herald he is concerned that the law could put officers at risk.
He is especially worried about escalating situations with people who are suicidal, and said that he fears that law enforcement officers showing up at the door of someone experiencing a mental health crisis to tell them to surrender their firearms could create a risky situation.
“At no time are we going to push a situation where we create a shootout with a suicidal person,” Smith said.
Because ERPOs are civil, not criminal protection orders, he also questions how much they will be able to be enforced. Officers are not allowed to use force when delivering civil protection orders. If officers deliver an order to someone telling them to surrender their guns and they decline to do so, the sheriff’s office has no way of enforcing it, Smith said.
Smith also says he has concerns about violating the 4th Amendment rights of Coloradans subjected to the ERPO process, because of the provision in the law that allows a judge to issue a search warrant when law enforcement requests an Extreme Risk Protection Order.
Another problem that Sheriff Smith has pointed out is the lack of involvement by mental health professionals in the determining whether someone is actually a threat to themselves or others. Supporters of the measure, like Lydia Waligorski of Violence Free Colorado, say those concerns are overblown.
She was skeptical of Smith’s concerns about the law being difficult to enforce, and said that since civil and criminal protection orders are very similar that shouldn’t be a concern. She also disagreed that the protection order increased risk to law enforcement officers, as someone who would be willing to injure a police officer would do that regardless of whether or not a protection order was in place, she said.
She hopes that the politicalization of the law will not damage its ability to be effective.
“At the end of the day, this is about saving lives,” Waligorski said. “Nothing else.”
Actually, at the end of the day this is about finding a way to take guns away from individuals without them ever being accused of a crime, much less convicted of one. Like the vast majority of “red flag” laws in place around the country, there’s no aspect of the new law that includes any sort of mental health assessment by doctors, much less the establishment of a treatment plan for those deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.
Instead, the supposedly dangerous person is told to surrender any legally owned firearms that they might have. If they do so, they’re still left with their pills, knives, rope, car keys, gasoline, and anything else they own that they could use to harm themselves or others.
Unfortunately, Colorado’s “red flag” law is a gun control law masquerading as a mental health measure. The law is currently being challenged in court, but at least for now, the law remains in effect while the case winds its way through the legal system.