Colorado lawmakers ponder red flag laws after Club Q shooting

After Saturday’s deadly shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, reports about the alleged shooter’s past history with law enforcement raised questions about Colorado’s red flag laws and whether their enforcement could have prevented the tragedy .

Red flag laws allow authorities to temporarily confiscate firearms and block the sale of firearms to people who a court deems to be at risk of harming themselves or others. In the US, 19 states and the District of Columbia have implemented this law.

The 2019 Red Flag Act passed by the Colorado Legislature allows law enforcement agencies, housemates or family members to sue extreme risk protection order an individual if there is evidence that he could pose a threat to himself or others by having a weapon. A hearing is required for a judge to make a formal recommendation. If approved, the orders prohibit the person from purchasing firearms and allow their firearms to be temporarily confiscated by law enforcement.

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Democratic Sen.-elect Tom Sullivan of Centennial, who lost his son in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and served as a two-term state representative, was a leading sponsor of Colorado’s 2019 red flag law He said that since the law is still so new, he expects to see additional reports on its effectiveness, as Attorney General Phil Weiser did after his first year. The report found that the law had not been taken advantage of as often as it could have been, with law enforcement making the most requests.

Questions about whether or not the law could have prevented the Q Club shooting arose after the Colorado Springs Gazette reported with abandoned charges related to a bomb threat by someone with the same name and age as the accused gunman, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich. ALdrich was arrested after an hours-long standoff in 2021but since no formal charges were filed, the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has since closed the case.

“I think when you evacuate a neighborhood, you bring in SWAT teams and dogs and people are prepared with tactical gear to protect themselves, that person has put somebody in harm’s way,” Sullivan said. “So when you solve this problem, you should look at, OK, well, is this a one-off? Was this something that’s ongoing? Do we have a chance of this individual doing this again?

When the firearms were returned to him, it wasn’t if he was going to do this, but when.

– State Senator-elect Tom Sullivan

Sullivan said when those follow-up steps aren’t taken, it only leads to disasters like the Q Club shooting.

“When the firearms were returned to him, it wasn’t if he was going to do this, it was when,” Sullivan said.

Democratic state representative Leslie Herod of Denver noted that El Paso County has declared itself a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” meaning they have no plans to use EPRO against anyone. The county sheriff has also been critical of the law, and Sullivan said the only way to enforce it is by electing officials who will enforce the law.

“I think there needs to be clear accountability for individuals, whether they’re elected officials … police chiefs, prosecutors, sheriffs, who choose not to enforce the law that the legislature has written,” Herod said. “This is not his job. Their job is to enforce the law, and when they intentionally and actively choose not to, there should be accountability.”

Sullivan noted that most red flag requests are filed to prevent someone from getting hurt, and that most gun deaths in Colorado are suicides. The Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention has consistently found El Paso County higher suicide rate in the state

Tom Sullivan
State Rep. Tom Sullivan speaks to members of the media on April 29, 2021 about a trio of bills that state lawmakers announced to try to curb gun violence. Sullivan’s son, Alex, was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

“There’s an overwhelming number of people who have taken their own lives, and we haven’t been able to do anything because a petition wasn’t filed,” Sullivan said. “There are other people who have died and we will never know their names.”

Sullivan noted the difficulty lawmakers had in determining who would be allowed to file an ERPO petition and the details about someone needing to live in the same house to do so. While law enforcement may file a petition, he said there’s no way to guarantee they will.

When different jurisdictions across the state decide for themselves whether or not to enforce laws like the red flag law, Sullivan said the consequences are simple: “People die.”

Policies to evaluate

Rep. Meg Froelich, a Greenwood Village Democrat who serves as co-chair of the legislature’s new Gun Violence Prevention Caucus, said waking up to news of another mass shooting is the unfortunate new way to life Wednesday in Virginia, a second mass shooting ensued in so many weeks

As the caucus and the state Office of Gun Violence Prevention continue their work, Froelich said the first areas of focus will be looking at what has already been done and whether it is being properly implementing and enforcing, not just for the red flag law, but for all policies related to gun safety.

“Should we go back to the law and work on the law? Do we need to work specifically on application and implementation? Do we need to work on education to increase implementation and enforcement? Froelich said.

In addition to the Q Club shooting, Froelich pointed to other cases, such as the Sol Tribe tattoo shop shooting last year, where red flag laws may have been able to prevent an atrocity.

Froelich said there is no one-size-fits-all solution to gun violence, but ERPOs are one tool that can help save a life. He said that while a common response to a shooting like the one at Club Q is to emphasize the need for more mental health resources, extreme risk protection orders are designed for that. she said

“It’s disappointing to see the call for more resources to go to mental health when we placed ERPO firmly in the realm of mental health resources,” Froelich said. “The thing is, somebody identifies in crisis, the guns are removed for a period of time — it’s not a seizure, it’s a pause button — and through the petition process to get those guns back, you’re showing that you’ve … addressed these mental health issues.”

Herod said he wants to see the red flag laws expanded across the country and urged those in authority to accept their responsibility to enforce them.

“They can’t just declare that protecting someone’s gun is more important than protecting someone’s life,” Herod said. “We need to step forward and say we’re not going to use political rhetoric or political fodder in a way that hurts people, that prevents progress on issues like the mass shootings that happen too often in Colorado.”

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