Colorado Sheriffs Want To Make Sure Dangerous People Get To Keep Their Guns
On Friday, Colorado became the fifteenth state to pass a "red flag" bill that would allow police to temporarily remove guns from the possession of a person who may be a danger to themselves or others. The law, meant to prevent mass shootings and the like, would allow family members, roommates and law enforcement to petition a judge for an "Extreme Risk Protection Order," whereupon their guns will be taken away until they are no longer deemed to be a risk.
This means that if you happen to be living with someone or be related to someone who is openly fantasizing about going to a mall and murdering everyone there, you can go see a judge and say "Hey, maybe this guy should not have a large cache of weapons for a while, just until he stops wanting to murder people." The judge would then authorize the seizure of your creepy roommate's guns until he is no longer a danger to himself or others.
This may seem like a completely reasonable thing, if you are a reasonable person who thinks it might be nice to try to do something about the mass shootings we have all the time these days -- but it's been pretty controversial in Colorado, with over half of the state's counties opposing the law. Many of the Sheriffs in those counties have said that they will not uphold the law when it goes into effect next year, claiming it is unconstitutional, which it damn well is not.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams told CNN last month that he would rather be found in contempt of court and locked up in his own county jail than carry out a court order to seize a person's weapon.
At least 10 other sheriffs contacted by CNN are lining up behind Reams, saying they are prepared to go to jail rather than enforce a law they believe would violate a person's constitutional rights.
"How many judges are going to send all the sheriffs in Colorado who are standing up to this to jail?" wondered Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell, who is among the sheriffs willing to choose jail over enforcement.
This is far from the only situation in the country in which a person may temporarily lose some rights in the interests of protecting them or protecting the public. We have laws against unlawful imprisonment in this country, but we can also involuntarily detain a person for up to 72 hours of psychiatric hospitalization if they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Federal law prohibits anyone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution" from possessing a firearm or being sold a firearm.
It is, however, extremely difficult to get someone held on a 5150 (as well it should be!), and it's something that is really only done in the most extreme cases. After being called to check on Elliot Rodger by his parents, police determined that he was not disturbed enough to be held on a 5150, despite the fact that he had made several YouTube videos threatening violence against women... just a few weeks before he went on to commit mass murder. That tragedy is what first prompted California to institute their own "red flag" law. So that there is something that can be done when people are a danger but not necessarily presenting as mentally ill.
Also opposing the law is pro-gun lobby Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which plans to file a lawsuit against the bill and push recall efforts against lawmakers who voted for it.
If the sheriffs to do not wish to comply with this law, I suppose that is their choice. Maybe they just get a special thrill from throwing their hands up in the air and going "These things just happen! It's not like there's anything we can do!" every time a mass shooting happens. However, if someone does go on a shooting spree or kills themselves after having had an Extreme Risk Protection Order filed against them that a sheriff chose to ignore, that sheriff should be charged as an accessory to that crime. That seems pretty fair, no? They say they're willing to go to jail rather than enforce this law? I say we take them up on it.
Those who oppose the bill say that they believe the law will be used to take guns away from innocent gun owners based on false accusations. And sure! Just like anything else, that's entirely possible. Unlikely, and involving a serious amount of effort, but possible. But either way, this is temporary. It can be appealed and that person can get their guns back.
Death, however, is permanent.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse