CBS News is reporting that “dozens of Colorado sheriffs are ready to defy” a new state gun control law when it takes effect in 2020 because they believe the statute—a so-called “red flag”/extreme risk protection order law—violates the U.S. Constitution.
The law, according to CBS, is modeled on language authored in part by Josh Horwitz, head of the anti-gun Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. He described it as “a temporary civil restraining order that allows family members or law enforcement to go to a court… before a tragedy occurs.”
But Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, was quoted by the New York Times reflecting the sentiments of Second Amendment activists. He told the newspaper such laws are designed to allow authorities to seize firearms before due process occurs.
“You’re guilty until proven innocent,” Gottlieb stated.
In August, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, a former New Jersey judge, authored an article in which he declared gun confiscation under “red flag” laws is unconstitutional.
“The concept of a ‘red flag’ law — which permits the confiscation of lawfully owned weapons from a person because of what the person might do — violates both the presumption of innocence and the due process requirement of proof of criminal behavior before liberty can be infringed,” Napolitano wrote.
Perhaps best underscoring the concerns of gun owners is a paragraph from a PolitiFact analysis of red flag laws that appeared Oct. 28 in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to explain a Wisconsin proposal.
“Typically,” the article stated, “a judge (or other judicial official such as a court commissioner) hears the request and then decides whether to issue a preliminary order without holding a hearing or notifying the gun owner. These orders are temporary and last from two to 21 days depending on the state, according to an issue brief put together by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council. The gun owner then has a chance to make his or her case at a hearing before a judge decides on a final order. That order commonly lasts for a year.”
CBS reported that “nearly half of Colorado’s counties have responded to the bill, passed in the new Democrat-controlled statehouse, by declaring themselves ‘Second Amendment sanctuaries.’”
Colorado is not the only state where Constitution-minded lawmen and county governing bodies are drawing the line against extremist gun control laws, and not just the “red flag” statutes.
Several, if not most, New Mexico sheriffs have told state lawmakers they won’t enforce new gun control provisions, and in Washington State, a majority of county sheriffs and one small town police chief are also refusing to enforce provisions of a controversial gun control initiative passed last year.
Washington Initiative 1639 passed in November 2018 by just under 60 percent of the voters. But sections of that measure are now being challenged in federal court by SAF and the National Rifle Association.
I-1639 made it illegal for young adults to purchase or possess a “semiautomatic assault rifle.” The initiative invented a definition of such a firearm that applies to every semi-auto rifle that’s ever been manufactured. It also invented a new crime, “community endangerment,” and mandated proof of training before being able to purchase a semi-auto rifle, plus added a 10-day waiting period.
An unrelated grassroots effort is gathering signatures on a repeal measure, Initiative 1094. Proponents need at least 300,000 signatures on the petition by Dec. 28 so it can be presented to the State Legislature in January. There are indications volunteer signature gatherers, including more than 250 firearms retailers, are at least one third of the way to their goal with about six weeks remaining. There is considerable momentum behind I-1094, and some gun dealers say every customer who comes through their doors adds a signature. Volunteers have also been filling petition sheets at major outdoor retail outlets.
But even if their effort succeeds, that’s only half the battle. The wealthy Seattle-based backers of I-1639 are not going to allow their gun control law be repealed without a fight.
In Colorado, CBS quoted Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams. He told CBS, “There are portions of the law I just flat out can’t and won’t do. I’ll support the U.S. Constitution, the Constitution of the state of Colorado and then, I’ll enforce the laws of the state of Colorado. When those things are in conflict you know you have to decide which one you are going to adhere to.”
However, another Colorado sheriff, Tony Spurlock in Douglas County, is described as “a staunch advocate of the red flag law” because one of his deputies, Zach Parrish, was killed in a New Year’s Eve gunfight with “a heavily armed man struggling with mental health issues.” Six other people were wounded in that gunfight.
Spurlock told CBS that had a red flag law been in effect, the armed man might have been contacted a month before and perhaps been peacefully disarmed.
“Probably a month before, we would’ve been able to intervene, and in my opinion, most likely would have saved two lives,” Spurlock told CBS News. “We would’ve saved the suspect’s life and we would have saved Zack’s life.”
Heading into 2020, gun control is increasingly becoming a central issue in what will likely be a raucous congressional and presidential campaign season. It is a lightning rod topic with what appears to be shrinking middle ground.