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Colorado father who lost his son to suicide believes the red flag law could have made a difference

Mark Dreher's son lost his life to suicide. Dreher believes a red flag law may have changed that.

LOUISVILLE, Colorado — Pending lawsuits, Colorado's red flag law will take effect on January 1.

It's something a father in Louisville said he wishes he had available to him two years ago. 

“Just like any young boy, young kid, I mean he was just full of life and it was the best time of my life,” said Mark Dreher, as he looked through family photos. 

He said they remind him of the good, and the beginning of the bad for his son Chris.

“In kindergarten, we got him a therapist, he was having anxiety,” Dreher said.

Those psychological concerns continued in high school when Dreher said Chris told a psychiatrist that he had suicidal ideations. That led to a 72-hour mental health hold. 

Eventually, Chris moved out.

“I'm not crazy about guns, I wouldn't allow a gun in the house but you know, when he got his own apartment, there wasn't anything I could do about it,” Dreher said.

He wanted to take Chris’ guns away, fearing the worst. It happened in April of 2017.

“I said, 'Will be over tomorrow morning. Let me know if I need to come over tonight,'” Mark said, reading the final message his son ever sent him. “And then the last text he sent me, 'I'm ok. I love you so much.'”

Chris lost his life to suicide that night. He shot himself.

“I think the Red Flag law would have been something," Dreher said. "I mean can't say 100% it would have worked but I think that it would have been a tool that we could have used, and we had no choice.”

Colorado joins 13 other states with some form of a red flag law. 

RELATED | Governor signs Red Flag gun bill

A researcher at the University of Indianapolis found a 7.5% reduction in gun suicides in the ten years after that state passed a law. Connecticut which has had it's law since 1999 has seen a nearly 14 percent reduction. Suicide was the primary cause for concern in 61% of the available cases reported to Connecticut courts.

“It is a tough decision but it's the kind of decision judges are regularly required to make," said Ian Farrell, a law professor at the University of Denver.

He explained that judges will need to take several factors into account when deciding to strip someone of their right to have a gun. Farrell said family members making such a report will have to sign an affidavit under oath and provide judges solid evidence of a threat.

“They would be looking at not just what the people are saying in court but also documents that indicate: Do they have a history of violence? Have they assaulted someone in the past? Is there evidence they have threatened to use their weapon on someone else?” said Farrell.

Also up for consideration would be someone’s psychological history such as documented suicide attempts or records showing that someone has previously had suicidal thoughts.

Dreher can’t help but think about the ‘what if?’ 

Judges rarely return guns to someone at the center of a petition. And multiple studies show that owning a gun is a risk factor for suicide, especially for those who have those thoughts.

RELATED | Red flag bill: A person who loses their gun has to prove they're no longer a risk to get it back

“I mean he had people that loved him to death, he loved us,” said Mark. “We were prepared to help him have an amazing future.”

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