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Friday, April 12, 2019
Controversial Colorado gun bill becomes law, 11 sheriffs willing to choose jail over enforcement
Colorado's controversial "red flag" bill was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis on Friday, with more than half of the state's counties declaring opposition to it and many sheriffs promising not to enforce it at all.
"This is a moment of progress," said Colorado House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, one of the legislation's four sponsors. "Today, we did something that was difficult and that is going to save lives."
Known as the "Extreme Risk Protection Order," the law will allow a family member, a roommate or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily seize a person's firearms if they are deemed a risk to themselves or others. Fourteen other states have passed similar legislation.
Still, the law now faces major hurdles, with a pro-gun lobby group promising to challenge it in court. Additionally, a growing number of sheriffs in the state have vowed to ignore the law when it takes effect next year, calling it unconstitutional.
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.
Garnett said he wasn't concerned about sheriffs being locked up.
"What I'm going to lose sleep over is, if that's the choice that they make, and someone loses their life, someone in crisis goes on a shooting spree, (or) someone commits suicide" because a gun wasn't taken away, he said.
Already, 38 of Colorado's 64 counties have officially declared their opposition to the bill, and 35 of them have passed formal resolutions against the law. Many of the resolutions declare the jurisdictions to be Second Amendment "sanctuary" or "preservation" counties, and pledge not to allocate resources to enforcement of the law.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser he is "confident that when and if the time comes, all law enforcement officials will follow the rule of law."
Reams insists he's not bluffing. So does Prowers County Sheriff Sam Zordel.
"I've already asked the coroner if he wanted to come over (to the jail) and get some training," he said, explaining that if he becomes an inmate, the coroner would be tasked with running the county jail.
Others took a more measured approach.
"I'm willing to go to my jail for it, the only exception would be a totally extreme case and most sheriffs would agree with that," said Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw.
The law is meant to be used only in the most extreme cases, but critics believe it will allow for guns to be taken based on a false accusation. A non-partisan analysis of the bill by Colorado's Legislative Council Staff predicted that the number of false red flag petitions would be minimal, and that the law would only be used 170 times per year.
California and Washington use similar red flag laws even less than that, though a similar law in Maryland is enforced six times more often than the Colorado estimate.