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‘It’s about mental health. Not guns:’ Lawmakers introduce red flag bill

Colorado lawmakers announced a new gun bill Monday morning aimed at temporarily freezing the right to bear arms for people with mental illness.
Credit: Brandon Rittiman, KUSA
Lawmakers gathered to announce a "red flag" bill at the Colorado State Capitol Monday morning.

KUSA — Lawmakers and victims of gun violence gathered in the Colorado State Capitol Monday morning to announce a bill aimed at creating a “red flag” process for families and law enforcement to suspend a person’s gun rights with the approval of a judge if they’re deemed a mental health threat.

The bill is named for fallen Douglas County Deputy Zack Parrish, who was shot and killed on New Year’s Eve by a man who had been known to law enforcement as mentally ill. Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock and the shooter’s mother both have said if Colorado had a red flag law, the beloved husband, father and friend would still be alive today.

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Spurlock was one of the members of law enforcement who spoke at a news conference announcing the bill. He said the legislation does not infringe upon the right to bear arms.

“When they are cured, this bill will allow them to have their weapons back,” Spurlock said. “We are not trying to take anything away from anyone. What we’re trying to do is save lives.”

State Rep. Alec Garnett (D-Denver) announced the bill, which is cosponsored by State Rep. Cole Wist (R-Arapahoe County). Despite the latter’s support, there were no State Senate Republicans involved in the bill’s announcement.

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Wist said he doesn’t support limiting the types of weapons people can have, but he is for preventing “guns in the wrong hands at the wrong time.”

George Brauchler, the Arapahoe County district attorney and Republican attorney general hopeful, also expressed support for the bill, arguing that it has more due process rights than similar bills in other states.

“Make no mistake about it, there is potential for this law to be abused,” Brauchler said, adding that “skepticism is not a justification for inaction.”

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Brauchler said he supported the bill because he believes the current “status quo isn’t working.”

“That’s what this bill is about: mental health, not guns,” Brauchler said.

Nine other states currently have red flag laws, which allow a person to get their guns back once their mental health is restored.

Colorado law currently only allows a mentally ill person to be taken into involuntary treatment for up to 72 hours if that person is deemed an “imminent danger” to themselves or others, meaning they are threatening harm right now. Authorities can only remove a gun if it is in the mentally ill person’s immediate possession. Once the mental health hold is over, the person’s weapons must be returned.

Despite support from many Republican sheriffs and district attorneys, it’s unclear whether a red flag law could gain enough votes from Republicans.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Colorado’s state legislature have concerns that removing the standard of “imminent danger” could infringe on the rights of citizens who have mental illness.

A failed red flag law in 2014 would have removed the “imminent danger” standard for involuntary mental care.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) has expressed support for a red flag law.

You can see the full bill below:

HB-1436 by Allison Sylte on Scribd

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