DENVER – Colorado lawmakers were poised to give initial approval late Thursday night to a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to seize guns from people considered to be a threat to themselves or others.
Similar “red flag” bills have been adopted in 12 states, and House Bill 1177 is backed by some Colorado sheriffs and police officers whose colleagues have died in shoot-outs with armed people suffering from mental illness.
The bill would allow family or law enforcement to flag someone as a threat and seek a court order to have that person’s firearms seized. If approved, a hearing would determine whether to extend seizure for as many as 364 days.
As as of 8 p.m. Thursday, lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee had heard nearly eight hours of testimony from Coloradans who shared their stories of loved ones murdered in mass shootings and defended their constitutional right to own guns.
Largely absent from the hours of testimony were the voices of rural residents and officials in Western Slope communities far from Denver.
The bill is likely to pass, carried by a Democratic majority, against the objections of gun rights activists and some members of law enforcement.
Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, a bill sponsor, and Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Aurora, whose son died in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, spent a year crafting the bill after an earlier version was killed in 2018. Despite this, opponents of the bill warned that it remains too partisan.
“You know it’s going to pass right now, you own all the votes,” said District Attorney George Brauchler, who represents the 18th Judicial District. “Do not let us become the only state in the country that has this bill on the book on a purely party-line vote.”
While supported by a small coalition of sheriffs from Boulder and Douglas County, the bill was declared a vast overreach by sheriffs from conservative counties like Mesa, El Paso and Teller. Gun seizure, they said, violates the Second Amendment. Members of the Judiciary Committee remained concerned that the bill requires a person whose guns were seized to prove at any point that he or she no longer poses a risk.
In Colorado, HB 1177 reignites a long-standing battle over gun restrictions that have triggered recall re-elections and backlash from voters. Lawmakers approved a ban on high-capacity magazines and added background checks for firearm transfers in 2013 after the Aurora shooting. But voters triggered recall elections for two Democratic supporters of the bill, Sen. John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, both of whom lost. Durango’s former Rep. Michael McLachlan, also a Democrat, narrowly escaped an effort to trigger a recall election, after signatures on a recall petition fell short by a couple thousand.
Seizing weapons from the mentally ill is not without precedence in Southwest Colorado. A year ago, a Montezuma County Court judge ordered that a Cortez resident remove all guns from his house as a condition of his bail from the county jail. Charles Head was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing and assault after a police standoff forced his neighborhood into lockdown. Head shot himself and died a month later.
Unlike HB 1177, which requires that law enforcement seize weapons, Head was responsible for removing his eight firearms. At the time, District Attorney Will Furse said that it is “very unusual” for the court to order police to forcibly remove weapons from a home.
firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Associated Press contributed to this report.This story has been updated to clarify that Michael McLachlan did not face a recall election.