Attorney General confident Colorado sheriffs will enforce red flag law
Special to the Daily
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on Thursday said he’s skeptical any sheriff in the state will refuse to enforce the new red flag law that will allow police to confiscate guns from people deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.
“Your job is to protect people and to enforce the law, and the idea that you could pick and choose what laws you will enforce is antithetical to the rule of law,” Weiser told the Vail Daily following the U.S. Attorney’s Law Enforcement Conference at the Vail Marriott on Thursday.
More than half of Colorado’s counties, including Garfield County, reportedly oppose the law, signed by Gov. Jared Polis on April 12, and at least 10 sheriffs have said they’d rather be found in contempt of court and locked up in their own jails rather than take away someone’s guns.
Asked if he would compel sheriffs to enforce the law if they refuse to when it goes into effect on Jan. 1, Weiser again said he doubts it will come to that when and if sheriffs actually face “the extreme risk” of someone who is mentally ill and clearly a threat to the community.
“We’re going to have to confront that situation if and when it happens,” Weiser said of Colorado’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law. “I am skeptical it’s going to happen. I believe when push comes to shove, it’s not going to happen, but if it does … we’ll have to see.”
‘This law is constitutional’
Colorado is the 15th state to adopt some version of Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation, and this version is named after Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Zackari Parrish, who was killed by a mentally disturbed man whose parents had warned he was a heavily-armed threat to the community. The law is backed by Republican Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock.
Weiser on Thursday promised to vigorously support anyone facing recall as a result of voting for or supporting the red flag bill, which he says will save lives – both from homicides and suicides.
“This law is constitutional,” said Weiser, who is the former dean of the University of Colorado Law School, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court law clerk. “I will be defending the extreme risk protection law if it’s challenged. Fifteen states have it now, including Colorado, and every other state where it’s been challenged it’s been upheld.”
But van Beek insists the new law is fraught with constitutional problems.
“I stand with other sheriffs in opposition to the red flag law on constitutional grounds as well as its failure to address the true issues, which are behavioral and mental health,” van Beek wrote on Facebook. But he added that Eagle County, unlike other counties opposing the law across the state, does not need to declare itself a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary county.
That’s because, he said, Eagle County has “always utilized discretion in the implementation of our duties and will continue to do so … Gov. Polis understands this priority, as he stated on March 26, that he believes sheriffs are committed to enforcing laws approved at the capitol, but he also said they have discretion to decide which issues to focus on.”
Weiser acknowledged there’s a profound lack of mental health services in Colorado, especially in rural areas, but that’s no reason to hold off on red flag gun laws.
“I do not understand the argument that goes like this, ‘Because we don’t have adequate mental health services, let’s let people who are mentally ill keep their weapons,’” Weiser said. “That’s what you’re saying, which is, ‘Let’s tolerate a level of risk that is avoidable.’”
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Oregon’s Laurenne Ross and New Castle’s Alice McKennis Duran both announced their retirement in recent days and celebrated together during Saturday’s downhill. McKennis Duran is a local namesake who grew up skiing at Sunlight in Glenwood and formerly trained with the AVSC.