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Colorado's 'Red Flag' Gun Measure Raises Concerns


Colorado's red flag gun measure is raising red flags of its own. The law is designed to allow family members or law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily take guns away from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. More than a dozen other states already have so-called red flag gun laws on the books. State lawmakers have passed the bill in Colorado, and the governor there says he will sign it. But some gun rights groups and law enforcement say they just won't follow the law. Here's Bente Birkeland of Colorado Public Radio.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Even though the gun bill hasn't been signed, it's already leading to potential recall efforts and legal challenges, and roughly half of the state's counties oppose it. Steve Reams is the Weld County Sheriff in northern Colorado. He says the law won't make anyone safer.

STEVE REAMS: Just taking someone's firearms away and leaving them in place doesn't solve the problem, in my mind. It could actually make it worse in some scenarios. And we're kicking the can down the road to deal with the mental health issue.

BIRKELAND: A big sticking point for critics is that the burden of proof would be on gun owners to get their firearms back by showing that they're no longer a risk. Reams says he's willing to go to jail rather than follow a court's order to seize someone's guns.

REAMS: In my oath of office, it reads that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the state of Colorado. Obviously, that creates a concern if a law is adopted that I believe is in conflict with either the state constitution or the United States Constitution.

JARED POLIS: The job of a sheriff is to enforce the law, not make the law. I mean, if they want to make the law, they should run for a different office.

BIRKELAND: That's Democratic Governor Jared Polis. He estimates the red flag law would be used about 50 times a year.

POLIS: It would be a great concern if this was used more broadly. It should be a very, very high bar to even temporarily remove that right because it's a constitutional right, which I strongly support.

BIRKELAND: Colorado is home to two of the country's most infamous mass shootings - the one at Columbine High School 20 years ago this month and another at an Aurora movie theater in 2012. The following year, when Democrats passed stricter gun laws, two state lawmakers were recalled.

MEG FROELICH: We are a Western state with a libertarian streak. We are a strong outdoors state with hunting and fishing.

BIRKELAND: That's Democratic Representative Meg Froehlich.

FROELICH: So I think all of those make for a more nuanced discussion on this issue.

BIRKELAND: She's among several Democrats potentially facing a recall election for supporting the red flag gun bill. Froelich thinks it will reduce gun violence and save lives. She says a recall campaign from Republicans would be a waste of taxpayer money.

FROELICH: Why not call for an exciting agenda of what you want to do and what solutions you're offering?

BIRKELAND: Tom Sullivan is a Democratic representative who sponsored the bill. He got involved in politics after his son, Alex, was killed in the Aurora shooting when a gunman opened fire on moviegoers. Sullivan says, after six years without any new gun control laws in Colorado, this is a much needed win.

TOM SULLIVAN: When the final vote was taken, I just had that moment where, you know, you could close your eyes, take a deep breath, appreciate what has happened. But then you open your eyes and that's not the end of, you know, the pain and the sorrow - and it's just the next day of it.

BIRKELAND: Sullivan plans to frame the signed bill and hang it on his office wall. He says it'll go next to the poster honoring his son and other Aurora shooting victims.

For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.