By: Robert Davis
Colorado’s Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams disagrees with the state’s recently passed red flag gun confiscation law so much that he’s willing to go to jail rather than enforce it.
“If a court order comes down telling a sheriff or deputy that they have to serve a red flag order, they have a choice to make,” Sheriff Reams told Gunpowder Magazine. “They can either go down the road of violating someone’s constitutional rights, or violate the court order, which would result in them sitting in jail for a period of time. Frankly, I’ll choose the later.”
HB 1177, the state’s red flag bill, which the Colorado House just passed and which the governor is expected to sign, requires law enforcement officials to serve respondents with a concurrent protection order requiring them to surrender their weapons for up to 14 days while the initial hearings against the respondent proceed – without the respondent present.
Reams says this bill infringes upon the 4th, 5th, and 14th amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Upholding such a law would force him and other law enforcement officers to break their sworn oath to uphold the Constitution.
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s a way to make this law constitutional,” Reams said.
Reams specifically took umbrage with how the law does not allow him, or other sheriffs, to use discretion when enforcing the law.
“Sheriffs can generally prioritize what parts of laws they want to focus on,” Reams said. “For example, I don’t have to write everyone a ticket for everyone who goes one mile per-hour over the speed limit.”
By allowing a third party to petition a court directly, however, the court can compel law enforcement to enforce the order without discretion, meaning people found to be the slightest bit dangerous can still be compelled to surrender their weapons, even if they are not found to be mentally ill.
“This bill is just poorly constructed,” Reams said. “It’s nothing more than a gun confiscation bill.”
Reams suggested that lawmakers look at other avenues to tackle the state’s growing mental health crisis, such as strengthening the mental health hold for firearm purchases.
The Emergency Mental Health Hold Statute, passed in 2017, allows for a person suffering from a mental health episode to be involuntarily held in treatment for 72 hours. It also allows for an evaluating professional to petition a court to extend the hold for short and long-term evaluations if necessary.
Democrats contend Colorado’s suicide statistics warrant the use of a red flag law to remove weapons from those who will do harm to themselves or others. The bill, however, has no provisions requiring a respondent to seek treatment, and does not remove any other dangerous objects from a respondent’s household that could be used for nefarious purposes. like ropes or knives.
Support Among Law Enforcement
More than half of Colorado’s counties sympathize with Sheriff Reams’ position on the red flag bill. Currently, 33 of 64 counties have become Second Amendment Sanctuary counties in response to the legislation.
The Denver Police Protective Association is the latest law enforcement department to dissent against the legislation.
“We stand with our members, sheriffs, and law-abiding citizens who oppose this legislation,” the Association said in a press release. “We encourage our elected officials to continue the conversation and include all stakeholders as we strive to keep our communities safe.”
Many other law enforcement departments have expressed concerns over how the bill could result in intensified interactions with respondents, possibly leading to more officer involved shootings. Others have expressed concerns over the evidentiary storage requirements in the bill, which doesn’t include a way to pay for it.
According to the bill, police departments have to find a way to store the weapons seized from respondents in the manner in which they are received. If the respondent turns over an antique firearm, he or she may petition the court to have a relative who does not live with the respondent hold the weapon for the duration of the order.
Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. You can contact him with tips or comments at RobertDavis0414@gmail.com or on Twitter @Davisonthebeat.