Proposed Colorado Bill Would Restrict Gun Access for Mentally Ill People

A bill currently under consideration in Colorado would enable law enforcement officials to remove the guns of people deemed to present a safety risk. Under the terms of the bill, law enforcement or family members may petition a judge for an order that would force the person to turn over the guns for a period of six months. The person is entitled to a hearing within seven days after the order is granted.
Red Flag laws, like the one Colorado is considering, are already in place in eight states with over a dozen more poised to follow. The Colorado bill sparked intense debate in a state that has endured multiple mass shootings, including the Aurora Theatre shooting, and has one of the highest percentages of gun owners. The gun lobby organization, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, quickly called on its 200,000 Facebook followers to contact the bill’s sponsors and speak against the gun control measure.
One of those sponsors, State Representative Cole Wist, insisted the bill protects the rights of gun owners. Wist, a Republican, highlighted the due process protections included in the bill while pointing out the need to give family and police options for avoiding potentially dangerous situations. This need was echoed by Sheriff Tony Spurlock who held a press conference in support of the bill.
On December 31, 2017, one of Sheriff Spurlock’s deputies, Zackari Parrish, was killed during a confrontation with Matthew Riehl who was also killed in the incident. The 37-year-old Riehl had a history of harassing and threatening people including family members, his professors, and local police officers. While officers were trying to take the mentally ill man into custody using a mental health hold, Riehl opened fire on them injuring four deputies and killing Parrish. Riehl’s mother expressed frustration about the deadly outcome especially since his family repeatedly sought help for him.
State Senator John Cooke sympathizes with both sides of the debate. A former sheriff, he understands the need to prevent a mental health issue from becoming a mass shooting incident. However, the Republican Cooke fears that red flag laws open the door for misuse by the government. The difficulty, he explained, is in crafting a bill that protects the public without taking away the rights of individuals.

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