PI Editorial: Red flag law needs a chance, not political grandstanding
A possible tragedy averted in Denver last week, but with its own sad ending, further points out the need to take Colorado’s new “red flag” gun law seriously and support it — not wrap ourselves in the emotions surrounding the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Could the new “extreme risk” protections taking effect in Colorado next year — allowing family members, police or others to raise concerns about a person’s mental state and seek to have any guns removed or kept from their possession — have made any difference?
The young woman in question was reportedly obsessed with the Columbine massacre and apparently came to Colorado from Florida as the 20th anniversary of that tragedy neared.
She was able to buy a firearm immediately upon her arrival, only a short distance from Columbine.
Florida led the way among states in passing a red-flag law after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in February 2018. Colorado now joins the growing list of states that have followed that lead.
Presumably, the flag could have been raised on 18-year-old Sol Pais, who tragically took her own life amid a massive police search that ensued and put the entire Denver metro area and mountain communities on high alert.
Though not on the scale of a Columbine, or a Marjory Stoneman, or the Aurora theater shootings — or any of the others that have taken place in the past 20 years — it was still a tragedy.
Is it the type of tragedy that could have been avoided under the state’s new red-flag law?
We won’t know until we try.
It’s easy to do nothing. It’s always harder to try to do something that could make a difference.
Instead, we have our own Garfield County sheriff and county commissioners reacting in defiance to this one small step aimed at curbing acts of violence to oneself or others due to the relative ease with which people can obtain, possess and transfer firearms.
Garfield County’s “Second Amendment Preservation County” resolution is really no different than the “sanctuary” resolutions passed by other Colorado counties.
In the end, it means nothing if a loved one or authorities take the necessary steps to go before a judge seeking to remove guns from someone they believe to be a danger to themselves or others. If the judge agrees, and the checks and balances built into the law are followed, our local authorities would have no option but to carry out the judge’s orders — or be held liable if something bad happens.
Grandstanding with gun rights “preservation” or “sanctuary” resolutions just enables people to wrap themselves in the Second Amendment without bothering to understand the problem, or what this particular law is aimed at trying to fix.
It stands as opposition to what seems like an opportunity for Colorado to try to address the mental health aspect of gun violence.
If this isn’t a solution, what is? Are we dealing with mental health by enacting some protections for those at risk, or aren’t we?
The county commissioners are right in that, if we go after the gun side of the problem, we must also do a better job of addressing the lack of services statewide to address mental health.
That means providing funding and programs to address mental health needs in all of Colorado, not just the populated areas.
On the eve of the Columbine 20th anniversary, Gov. Jared Polis visited neighboring Eagle County to applaud Vail Health’s $60 million investment in addressing mental, or “behavioral health,” and to talk about his office’s new statewide behavioral health task force.
We hope the funding will follow, but should also point out that it’s not just the state government that should be involved on this front. We also encourage other private and public health institutions, local governments and other entities, both public and private, to step up.
On the gun front, we can’t get so caught up in the Second Amendment “shall not be infringed upon” rhetoric that we fail to reason.
There are already federal laws on the books that spell out who and who can’t purchase or possess firearms, including certain people with felony records and anyone dishonorably discharged from the military. The problem is those laws aren’t easily enforceable without better gun control measures and tracking systems.
In addition to Colorado’s red-flag law, we still need more effective background checks and to close the loopholes on the transfer of firearms.
We need a gun ownership registry, whether that’s at the state or federal level. We can’t own a vehicle without registering it, so why on earth should we be allowed to own a potentially lethal weapon without registering it.
Is the red-flag law the perfect solution? Maybe not, but it’s a start. And it’s worth a try, whether it saves one life or many.
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