"60 Minutes" Covers Sheriffs' Standoff Over Red Flag Laws In Colorado

Colorado’s “red flag” firearms seizure law is set to go into effect in a little more than a month, and as we’ve reported here previously, many sheriffs in the state are vowing not to enforce the new law when it takes effect. Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams has said he’ll go to jail rather than attempt to enforce the law, and when pressed by Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes on Sunday evening, didn’t back down a bit.

Steve Reams: There are portions of the law I just flat out can’t and won’t do.

Scott Pelley: This is a law that was passed by the legislature. It’s signed by the governor. Nobody asked you.

Steve Reams: That’s right.

Scott Pelley: You’re just expected to do your job. And enforcing the law is your job.

Steve Reams: Right. And I also take an oath of office that says, I’ll support the U.S. Constitution, the Constitution of the state of Colorado and then, I’ll enforce the laws of the state of Colorado. When those things are in conflict you know you have to decide which one you are going to adhere to.

Scott Pelley: Are you prepared to get locked up in your own jail?

Steve Reams: That is something that could happen. A judge could order me to my own jail. You know, I would be the one litigating that issue and we’ll determine at that point if this Red Flag law is constitutional.

“Enforcing that law is your job,” says Scott Pelley. Yet we have prosecutors and police chiefs around the country who’ve said they will not enforce or prosecute low level drug offenses, and that usually draws praise from the media’s commentariat, not the furrowed brow on display by Pelley.

Scott Pelley: If you decline to enforce one of these orders and people die, won’t the county be liable for the damages?

Steve Reams: If law enforcement’s only objective is to go take someone’s firearms and that person still goes out and commits violence, do you think that we would then be off the hook for any damage that they would inflict? No, people would still look at law enforcement and say, “Why did you only take their guns? Why didn’t you deal with the person?”

Sheriff Reams is exactly right. And it apparently never crossed Scott Pelley’s mind that these orders are likely to be enforced against individuals who actually pose no threat to themselves or others. The lack of due process protections and low standard of evidence required for an order make it crystal clear that the law is based on a “better safe than sorry” approach.

Pelley also spoke to Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who advocated for the law after Douglas County Deputy Zach Parrish was killed in the line of duty by a mentally ill individual who engaged in an hours-long shootout with police. In fact, the state’s red flag law is named after Deputy Parrish.

Tony Spurlock: I am pro-gun rights. I’m a Second Amendment guy.

Scott Pelley: Then how can you support this?

Tony Spurlock: This is not about taking guns away. This is about giving a respite time, a time for someone who is in danger and may not be making rational decisions at this point an opportunity to stay alive. The opportunity not to kill their family members. An opportunity not to hurt some unknown citizen. Let’s eliminate as much danger as we can so we can get that individual some care and treatment.

I do understand where Sheriff Spurlock is coming from, and I don’t believe that just because he supports the red flag law he’s a gun-hating opponent of the Second Amendment. Colorado’s law isn’t the worst I’ve seen on the books, but, contrary to what the sheriff said about getting the individual “care and treatment”, there’s still no requirement that an individual deemed to be a danger to themselves or others receives any sort of mental health treatment whatsoever.

The courts in Colorado are supposed to decide whether or not to order a mental health evaluation, but there’s absolutely no requirement that it be done, nor would a declaration by a mental health professional that the individual is not a danger outweigh a judge’s decision to issue the order banning possession of firearms for up to a year. Unfortunately, this law does very little to ensure that the individual who’s been stripped of their firearms gets any sort of care or treatment at all.

There is already a lawsuit filed against the state’s “red flag” law, but I suspect the law will be allowed to go into effect while the legal challenge proceeds in the courts. While the litigation is taking place, we’re also likely to see that grassroots pushback against the law in places like Weld County before long. Whether that means Sheriff Steve Reams ends up in a jail cell or not remains to be seen, but it sounds like Colorado’s fight over the Second Amendment is going to get real interesting in the not too distant future.