EDITORIAL: Colorado red-flag gun safety bill is fair, effective and long overdue

FILE – This July 2012 evidence file photo provided by the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office shows an assault weapon and blood by sandals following the July 20, 2012 Colorado theater shooting by James Holmes in Aurora. A ‘red flag” gun control bill at the Colorado Legislature seeks to allow police or others to seize the guns of mentally ill people, hoping to prevent similar massacres.

Residents in Aurora and all across the state need to turn away from political rhetoric on all sides of the red-flag gun-control bill in the Colorado Legislature, and just think the measure through.

Those who do will come to the same conclusion as Aurora Police, the Douglas County Sheriff, the former Arapahoe County Sheriff, a majority of state legislators and most Colorado residents: House Bill 1177 is fair and can help prevent death and injury from gun violence.

Survivors and families of those murdered during the preventable 2012 Aurora theater shooting can attest to the wisdom of ensuring police can remove guns from people in mental crises.

Currently, gun-rights extremists, who have long had a choke-hold on state and federal lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, and especially Republicans, are claiming that Colorado’s red-flag measure is dangerous and unconstitutional.

It’s neither of those things. The measure simply creates a needed process to ensure that people who have become dangerously unstable because of mental illness can have their firearms taken from them until they can prove to a court they are no longer a threat.

It takes little imagination to see how such a law could actually have prevented the Aurora theater shooting, two catastrophic high-school shootings in Colorado, a massacre inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, the abhorrent shooting of Douglas County Sheriff Deputy Zackari Parrish and probably hundreds of suicides and domestic violence deaths.

Only the misguided or delusional believe that the government doesn’t have the responsibility and the obligation to keep firearms and other weapons of mass murder away from mentally ill people.

While GOP critics have raised a bevy of objections, as they have with every gun-safety bill introduced in the Colorado Legislature for years, their biggest gripe with HB 1177 is what say is a lack of due process. They confuse the legal mechanism of a criminal justice trial with work by police to keep the public safe.

The bill works like this: Police or a family member concerned that someone’s mental status has become dangerous can go to a court and request a hearing to convince a judge that police should confiscate someone’s firearms. Petitioners at the hearing must persuade the judge that a gun-owner’s behavior is so dangerous that confiscation is warranted. This is hardly breaking ground in Colorado or anywhere. For decades, courts have been able to impose 72-hour holds on citizens, forcing them into mental hospitals for evaluation. It would be easy for courts to continue doing this. Anyone so dangerous to themselves or others needing to have their weapons removed should almost certainly be isolated for evaluation and treatment.

If the judge agrees with evidence and testimony about the danger created by a subject’s mental status, they grant police the power to forcibly take the subject’s guns and ammo.

Critics say this lacks due process, a ridiculous notion. They want anyone suspected of being imminently dangerous with their guns to be advised of the hearing and offer their own proof of their mental competence. It’s easy to see the flaw in giving mentally ill people a head’s up that police think they’re unstable and want to take their guns.

Such a law would defeat the purpose of protecting the subjects and the public. Every day, police and courts work to make arrests and jail dangerous people until courts can come to conclusions about culpability. Without the ability to intercede in advance of a shooting, the system critics want would be akin to writing a ticket to robbers, rapists or murderers caught red handed committing a crime, inviting them to a hearing to sort it all out in court later on. Police are expected to intercede in instances of imminent danger, both with and without a court warrant. This is no different. The measure suspends gun-rights of people who endanger themselves and others and then restores them when the subjects are able to prove to the same court that they no longer pose a threat. There is no crime here. There’s finally a way for people suspected of being dangerous and owning guns to be forced into treatment, or at the very least, separated from weapons that can kill or maim dozens almost effortlessly and with very little thought.

It’s time to side with reason and responsibility on this easy-to-understand and easy-to-support measure.

Gun activists have made it clear they have no interest in working toward compromise gun-safety measures. Too much life has already been lost and too much is still at stake to accommodate their outright obstruction. State lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis need to enact this measure now and start protecting residents and police officers before someone else is killed.