‘Red flag’ gun bill meets its expected demise in Colo. Senate

Author: Marianne Goodland - May 7, 2018 - Updated: May 9, 2018

(Photo by RoschetzkyIstockPhoto, istockphoto)

A Colorado state Senate committee late Monday put an expected end to a “red flag” bill that would have allowed law enforcement or family members to legally remove firearms from mentally ill people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

The Republican-led Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted down the “Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act” on a 3-2 vote along party lines.

The three-hour Monday hearing drew many, but not all, of the same backers and opponents of House Bill 1436. Most notable in their absences: District Attorneys George Brauchler of Arapahoe County and Dan May of El Paso County, both Republicans, who had earlier testified in support of the bill.

Brauchler told Colorado Politics Tuesday his support for the bill has not wavered. He was not available for Monday’s hearing but said he has continued to reiterate his support for the measure during the past week on radio shows all along the Front Range.

But Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock was at Monday’s hearing, to walk lawmakers through the legal process of obtaining the “extreme risk protective order” (ERPO) that would allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from mentally ill people.

This would be for extremely mentally ill people who are in danger of hurting themselves or others, Spurlock told the committee.

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Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

“This is not about the gun,” he said. “This is about the mentally ill person who has a gun. Do you want someone who is so mentally ill that a reasonable person would run in the other direction, to have a gun? I hope you will say ‘no.’ We cannot wait any longer to save those who are a danger to themselves and others.”

Spurlock also responded to questions from the committee chair, Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, who asked why the bill doesn’t go after knives or cars, which can also hurt people.

“Firearms aren’t the culprit,” she said.

“You have to start somewhere,” Spurlock responded, adding that 60 to 70 percent of suicides in Colorado are committed with guns — testimony echoed by domestic violence and other experts who also spoke to the committee Monday.

Opponents, most of whom had testified last week, warned the bill is an assault on the Second Amendment and on due process.

People’s political views will become the basis for gun-grabbing, said Maureen Cochran, who said the bill would create victims.

Jake Viano, chair of the Denver County GOP, said his group supports the spirit of what lawmakers are trying to do, but not the execution, calling the bill “wrought with unintended consequences.”

And Nicholas Oliva, the campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Lopez, said the bill would promote “apathy” to the Second Amendment, due process and individual property rights.

“What’s next?” he asked: Kitchen knives? Shovels? An ax? “When the state runs out of private property to seize,” he warned that what’s next to go is a person’s freedom.

The hearing brought in families of those with mental illnesses who have killed themselves or others, and those who fear for their loved ones’ lives.

That included Kelly Murphy of Morrison, who told the story of a brother who had a bipolar disorder and PTSD. He was a Republican and member of the National Rifle Association, she said, and he also had guns. He killed his wife and two neighbors, she said.

“It’s a whole another experience to live through something like this,” she told the committee.

Through sobs, 91-year-old Mary Butler of Castle Pines told the committee about her son, whom she said was murdered by a mentally ill man who also killed two other people 30 years ago. She vowed to live to 100 years old and to come back to the Capitol every year until the red flag bill is passed.

“I beg you on my knees” to pass this bill, she pleaded.

“I don’t know how guns came to be more precious than lives,” said another witness, Mary Parker, who said she is a law-abiding gun owner who appreciates the efforts of Republicans to protect her gun rights. But “I have no illusions about the fate of the bill,” she told the committee.

The senators who will vote to kill the bill are “focused on property rights, vindictive ex-spouses and gun grabbers,” Parker said. “Until you turn your focus to the victims who are dying became we don’t have means to take guns away from the killers, … nothing will change.”

Several witnesses said they believed they had wasted their day coming to the Capitol to testify, knowing the bill would be killed.

“None of you have wasted your time,” said Sen. Lois Court of Denver, the bill’s sponsor. “If we don’t prevail tonight, we will prevail eventually. I promise.”

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.