For gun owner rights advocate Lesley Hollywood, Colorado’s new Red Flag law — set to go into effect with the New Year — gives residents a lot to look forward to in 2020: false accusations …
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For gun owner rights advocate Lesley Hollywood, Colorado’s new Red Flag law — set to go into effect with the New Year — gives residents a lot to look forward to in 2020: false accusations designed to harm gun owners and inevitable legal challenges.
“Once it goes into effect and we start following this, you will see plaintiffs challenging it constitutionally,” Holllywood told a crowd Nov. 9 at Thornton’s Anythink Library at Wright Farms. “And we will see it challenged, a lot.”
Hollywood, executive director of the Rally For Our Rights, a pro-gun owners organization, spoke to group of 50 concerned gun owners from up and down the Front Range at the library meeting about the new red flag law, technically called an Extreme Risk Protection Order or an ERPO.
She said the Thornton meeting was one of several her group hopes to host before the law takes effect on Jan. 1. She organized a protest in Longmont last month.
“Our goal is to keep bringing them around the state, to different places,” Hollywood said. “We’ll head down south of Denver next and to Colorado Springs. We have requests along the Western Slope, too.”
Colorado is one of 17 states that have adopted some version of a Red Flag law.
Aiming to stop future mass shooting events and other gun violence, Colorado legislators adopted the Red Flag law in March and Governor Jared Polis signed it into law in April. It’s set to take effect Jan. 1.
The law allows family members, members of the same household and law enforcement officers to petition the court to remove a person’s firearms, declaring them a significant risk to themselves or to others. With that declaration in hand, police can go to the person’s home and remove their firearms, have the gun owner store them at a licensed facility or have them sell the weapons.
People that have their guns taken away must have a hearing with the judge within 14 days to determine whether the guns should be returned and the order cancelled or if the order should extended for a year.
Gun rights groups claim Red Flag laws violate the second amendment, and Hollywood claims Colorado’s version violates a host of other constitutional protections.
“Our goal is to present the facts about this, because gun owners are very concerned — and they have reason to be concerned,” she said. “We want to give them the information they need and the some resources and tools.”
Hollywood was joined by Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, a critic of the law.
“It’s a convoluted law, it’s very poorly written and quite frankly it is one of the most confusing things that have come out of the legislature,” Ream said.
False accusation fears
In Hollywood’s view, the new law allows nearly anyone to accuse a gun owner of ill will, allowing the state to swoop in and take their guns. The law allows family or household members to file the petitions, but state law interprets that broadly, she said. It can mean a child, grandchild, parent or spouse. Or, she said, it can mean anyone the gun owner has been intimate with in the recent six months — or anyone willing to lie and claim that kind of intimacy.
“It’s going to be a he-said, she-said kind of thing and that is very scary,” she said. “They could say ‘My neighbor and I had an affair.’ Does that mean they qualify to petition you for an ERPO, just because your dog barks too much? This law is so poorly written and loose, there are so many questions like that.”
She predicted that anyone with an ax to grind will use the new law to harass gun owners.
“My right to self defense is so important, for me and my daughters,” she said. “We live alone. So, coming in and falsely reporting someone means they have to relinquish their firearms and they no longer have any way to defend themselves. Bad things could happen, even in those 14 days.”
Backers said the law was designed to help the suicidal or someone with mental health problems, but that’s a lie she said. There is no mental health component to the law, she said.
“We are talking about people who are potentially in crisis, but is this going to help the situation?” she said. “It asks law enforcement to enter the home of a suicidal or dangerous individual — forcefully if necessary — confiscate their firearms and leave the person and anyone living with them in the crisis condition. This is not compassion, this is not empathetic. It is downright cruel, if you ask me.”
Weld won’t enforce
The law does not allow mental health professionals to petition the court directly to get someone declared, although they can ask police to petition the courts.
In Weld County, Reams said that won’t happen.
“As a law enforcement officer, as a sheriff, my agency will not be the applicant for a Red Flag order,” Reams said. “I say that because I don’t know how to do it and conform with my oath of office, which is to protect your constitutional rights.”
If a family goes around him and has the court declare a Red Flag order, he won’t take any guns. He’ll inform the person that they’ve been declared and tell them they are ordered to surrender their guns.
“We will give them the notification, but I will have no part in taking their weapons away,” he said. “I think law enforcement has the opportunity to do that in any jurisdiction.”
He urged gun owners to talk to their local chiefs of police and sheriffs to find out how they view the law.
“That’s not going down and demanding an answer but simply sending them an email asking them to share their perspective on the Red Flag law and how they intend to utilize the law,” Reams said. “If they answer back the way I have, then you know what your provisions are. If they answer back that they intend to fully use the law, to the fullest extent, then you have to start making some decisions.”
Both urged gun owners to remain peaceful when faced with the new law, even if they have their guns taken away. No matter how many guns a private individual owns, they are not as well armed and trained as the police, Reams said.
“It’s an emotional issue, but I really think we need to have a real conversation,” Hollywood said. “If I testify about this and there are seven people, and four are anti-gun and three are pro-gun, I don’t need to talk to the pro-gun people. They are already on my side. I need to convince the anti-gun people, and I am not going to do that by being a jerk.”
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