DENVER — It's official: Colorado is now a state with a red flag law.
The bill that will allow weapons to be seized from persons the court deems a significant risk to themselves or others was signed by Gov. Jared Polis (D) on Friday afternoon.
"This law will not prevent every shooting, but it can be used in a targeted way to ensure those who are suffering with a mental health crisis are able to temporarily have a court order in place that helps make sure they don't harm themselves or others," Polis said. "Many other states have passed similar laws they've often seen it used in a very targeted and limited way, 100 or 150 times a year. we expect a similar targeted approach here in Colorado."
The Colorado House on April 1 gave final approval to the bill in a 38-25 passing vote, with two Democrats voting against it: Rep. Bri Buentello (D-Pueblo) and Rep. Donald Valdez (D-La Jara). Ultimately, no Republicans voted in favor of the bill before it became law.
"These kinds of issues when it comes to our rights and mental health and safety, these aren't partisan issues and overwhelming majorities of Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated voters - vast majorities of gun owners support this law," the governor said at the press conference.
Colorado Republicans defeated a similar bill last year, insisting it infringed on citizens' Second Amendment rights. But Democrats won both statehouse chambers in November, and Polis called for a "red flag" law while campaigning last year.
The law will allow family or law enforcement to seek a court order to have guns seized if they believe the owner is a threat. If approved, a subsequent court hearing would be held to determine whether to extend the seizure, up to 364 days.
The nonpartisan Legislative Council Staff estimates that 170 Coloradans will have their guns temporarily seized each year if the bill becomes law. Staffers arrived at that calculation based on the frequency of Red Flag gun seizures in some of the other states that have enacted similar laws. The legislature’s projection for Colorado assumes a seizure rate of three gun owners per 100,000 residents.
The law will also leave it up to the person whose guns were seized to prove at any point that he or she no longer poses a risk.
The law does not go into effect until next year. Before it does, a law enforcement advisory group called the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board will decide how the law should be implemented.
Last year's red flag law was, in fact, sponsored by a Republican, but Cole Wist lost his seat to a Democrat and this year's bill sponsor, bill sponsor Rep. Tom Sullivan (D-Centennial).
"These always happen on Fridays. It's 351 Fridays since Alex was murdered," said Sullivan.
Sullivan, whose son Alex was one of 12 killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, sponsored the bill with House Majority Leader Rep. Alec Garnett (D-Denver). Sullivan wore Alex's jacket the day the bill was announced, and on Friday, when the bill was signed, and Polis gave him the pen.
"There are no coincidences in my life anymore. When big things happen -- the recent New Zealand shooting, that was a Friday. Sandy Hook was a Friday. Our first day here at the Capitol, my first day walking in here as a state representative was on a Friday. That doesn't happen by accident," said Sullivan.
He was elected in November and went door-to-door telling voters that getting a red flag bill signed into law would be his top priority.
He believes that's why his name hasn't come up as facing a potential recall like other Democrats.
"We told every single person that would listen to us what we were going to do. We were going to run an extreme risk protection order day one. I am the politician who is actually going to do what he said what he was going to do when he was on your porch in July," said Sullivan.
So what's next for the first-year lawmaker now that his priority is completed?
"I'm working a mental health parity bill. What that will do is bring mental health care on par with your physical health care," said Sullivan.
He said he assumes he'll have Republican support for mental health legislation, as Republicans tried to alter the red flag bill to have a person taken for help, instead of having their weapons taken from them.
"If it's not about mental health like I hear today, then it's about gun confiscation," said Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley) during a Senate floor debate on March 22.
On Friday, Cooke told 9NEWS that he is still willing to support mental health legislation even though the red flag bill is now law.
He said he wouldn't lead a charge next year to repeal the red flag bill, as he did in 2014 after Democrats passed gun legislation in 2013 that limited gun magazine capacity to fewer than 15 bullets.
Also in attendance Friday was Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock. Spurlock, a Republican, supports the law. He believes it could have saved Douglas County Deputy Zack Parrish, who was killed by a gunman known to law enforcement. Spurlock has gone against commissioners in his county, who oppose the bill.
More than a dozen other states have red flag laws.
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