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Douglas County, site of latest school shooting, at epicenter of Colorado’s red flag recall debate

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May 8, 2019, 8:10 am
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock (fourth from right) and his staff.

On the same day as yet another deadly Colorado school shooting Tuesday, RealVail.com’s front-page story in the Vail Daily reported on efforts by Republicans and gun-rights groups to recall Democrats who voted in favor of Colorado’s new red flag law, including Vail’s Kerry Donovan.

Named the Deputy Zackari Parrish, III, Violence Prevention Act for a Highlands Ranch deputy murdered in an ambush in 2017, the Extreme Risk Protection Order law passed by the legislature this session and signed by Gov. Jared Polis allows police or family members to petition a judge to temporarily confiscate the firearms of someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Republican Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, whose county includes the STEM School Highlands Ranch where two students allegedly shot eight fellow students on Tuesday, killing one, was the leading law enforcement proponent of the legislation.

The Douglas County commissioners in March unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the red flag law, stating they “ … will fund the enforcement of only those duly enacted state laws that fully respect and support the Constitutional rights of our citizens, including their rights to due process, to bear arms, and to defend themselves from evil.”

Colorado Ceasefire on Tuesday issued a press release calling for the commissioners to reconsider.

“Clearly Douglas County is not immune to the ravages of easily available guns,” Colorado Ceasefire’s Eileen McCarron said. “We hope they reconsider that position in light of this school shooting.”

McCarron added that while it’s not yet known whether the parents of the two suspects or anyone else at the STEM school knew about plans for Tuesday’s attack, which occurred about 2.5 miles from where Deputy Parrish was killed in 2017, the county’s resolution would have hampered Spurlock’s office in any efforts to enforce the red flag law.

District Attorney George Brauchler, whose district includes Douglas County, testified in favor of the law last year and then opposed it this year. Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek supported the concept of the bill as a law enforcement tool last year only to oppose it this year. Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger has consistently supported the law and testified in favor of its passage.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Executive Director Dudley Brown, whose gun-rights advocacy group led the successful recall charge against two Democrats over gun laws enacted in 2013, is now eyeing nine state representatives and three state senators for recall over red flag votes, including Donovan. There has also been talk of an RMGO recall of Spurlock in Douglas County.

Asked why he thought law enforcement officials like van Beek and Brauchler changed their minds about the law in just one year and whether the bill changed significantly in that time span, Brown said he thought they simply realized they didn’t want to have to enforce it.

“Nope, I don’t think they were that different, last year and this year’s bill,” Brown said. “I don’t think it was different enough to warrant some massive swing. It’s just this year sheriffs are able to read the tea leaves and that their constituents are now understanding what the concept of red flag is. And now they’re realizing that they’re going to face a big backlash from their constituents if they’re forced to carry out these, quote, protection orders. They don’t want to do it.”

Red flag was a big part of the debate in the campaign for Colorado attorney general, with Brauchler ultimately losing to Democrat Phil Weiser. Weiser, in a recent interview with RealVail.com – andin a story on red flag in the Vail Daily – cited the case of a Florida teenager obsessed with the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

The woman flew to Colorado as the 20-year anniversary of that shooting approached last month, purchasing a shotgun not far from where Tuesday’s shooting occurred at the STEM School Highlands Ranch. Columbine is only a few miles from the scene of Tuesday’s attack, although so far there have been no reports connecting the two alleged attackers to the national obsession with Columbine.

Ultimately, the young woman obsessed with Columbine was found dead from apparent suicide in the mountains west of Denver, but not before hundreds of schools around Colorado were closed or forced into lockout mode, including Eagle County Schools.

“You have a woman in Colorado who says she’s here to do a school shooting and there’s evidence that she’s mentally ill or disturbed, what do you do as a sheriff?” Weiser told RealVail.com in an April 25 interview in Vail. “Do you seek an extreme risk protection order? If someone else has gotten one, do you enforce it or do you say, ‘I’m not going to do anything?’”

Weiser said he expects law enforcement officials will enforce the law in such situations in the future.

“So, you have two choices,” Weiser added. “You either literally take the extreme risk or you act on the protective order, and when it’s not an abstraction, but when it’s a person, like the person [last month] saying she could do something awful, I really believe that every single law enforcement officer will do their duty and will execute the order.”

Here’s a re-post of Tuesday’s Vail Daily story on the RMGO recall efforts:

Vail’s Kerry Donovan on Rocky Mountain Gun Owner recall list

Now that the dust has settled on a frenetic session at the Colorado Legislature, with majority Democrats passing an ambitious progressive agenda, Republicans and their consultants and likeminded lobbying groups are gearing up to go on the recall warpath.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Executive Director Dudley Brown confirmed to the Vail Daily on Friday that his gun-rights advocacy and lobbying group is targeting nine Democratic state representatives and three senators, including Vail’s Kerry Donovan. Democrats hold a slim 19-16 majority in the Senate.

“She most definitely is on the target package,” said Brown, who was instrumental in recalling two Democrats over gun laws in 2013 – the first ever successful recalls of Colorado legislators. “We don’t know if we’ll do [Donovan’s Senate District 5] or not, but she is up for consideration. Congratulations, Senator.”

Brown held a press conference with Republican minority leadership in Denver on Thursday, announcing a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Extreme Risk Protection Order red flag law that allows family members and police to petition a judge to confiscate guns from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Brown said his group reserves the right to sue on constitutional grounds if the procedural lawsuit is unsuccessful, and he has promised to go after Democrats with aggressive recall campaigns over their votes on red flag and a host of other issues.

“A few Republican operatives financed by Front Range special interest groups have threatened recalls for every elected official their candidates overwhelmingly lost to back in November,” Donovan told the Vail Daily via a spokesman.

“I won my election by more than 14,000 votes because I said I would work on issues like expanding broadband access and reducing health care costs, and that is exactly what I am doing,” Donovan added. “I plan to keep the pledges I made and overwhelmingly won on.”

Donovan declined to comment at more length on being targeted specifically for her yes vote on the controversial red flag bill, which was supported by Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger and opposed by Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek.

Donovan wrote about her yes vote on red flag on her Facebook page in March: “That will make many of you very angry. That will make many of you very happy. That’s the work of politics. This is a commonsense and constitutional bill that will save lives and is supported by 87% of Coloradans.”

Various polls taken throughout the legislative process showed Coloradans in general supporting red flag by up to 87 percent, with one Republican-leaning Magellan Strategies poll showing 60 percent of Republicans backed the bill.

There is currently no official recall petition of Donovan on record with the Colorado secretary of state’s office, and there’s a high bar to even get on the ballot in Donovan’s sprawling, seven-county Senate District 5, which she won last November by a margin of 41,838 to 27,375 (60.4 to 39.6 percent).

To get a recall on the ballot, valid signatures are required within 60 days from 25 percent of the total of 69,213 votes cast in SD5 last November, or 17,304 total signatures. Brown acknowledges that would be tough.

“It’s huge, and it’s mountainous,” Brown said of SD5, which includes Democratic strongholds like Pitkin and Eagle counties, but also much more conservative, although less populous counties like Delta, Gunnison, Chaffee, Hinsdale and Lake. “I mean, it’s definitely not the easy district to walk.”

“But who’s motivated to turn out in a recall and actually cast a vote? People are mad right now. Well, and it ain’t just guns like it was in 2013, right?” Brown added, alluding to GOP anger over the National Right to Vote, a controversial sex education bill and energy and environment bills.

Donovan was leery of gun laws passed in 2013 in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting and Sandyhook Elementary School massacre. During her first campaign, in 2014, she supported universal background checks – along with the vast majority of Americans – but disagreed with a 15-round magazine limit, and later voted in favor of an unsuccessful attempt to repeal it.

Because of that, Donovan is not endorsed by the gun safety lobby Colorado Ceasefire, but the group would support her if an official recall campaign gets underway.

“Yes, we will support candidates who are unfairly attacked for voting with the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the state,” said Colorado Ceasefire’s Eileen McCarron.Even in rural areas of the state, there’s strong support for the extreme risk law.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, told the Vail Daily he will vigorously defend the law from all legal challenges and expects it to persevere on constitutional grounds if challenged, as it already has in two of the 15 states where similar legislation has passed.

“If there’s a recall against Kerry Donovan, I will be here as often as I can to support her and work hard on her behalf,” Weiser said. “She’s doing great work in the legislature. Her vote on this reflected a lot of thought, a lot of care and ultimately a conclusion of principal that she explained in a very clear and I think compelling fashion.”

Weiser added it will be more difficult for Republicans to successfully recall Democrats in 2019 compared to 2013 because six years ago the recalls were polling place elections, and now the state has gone to all mail-in ballots.

Ben Engen of the conservative consulting company Constellation Political Consulting has been conducting recall training sessions, including one last month Chaffee County. He points to a Facebook video circulating from a March town hall that Donovan conducted in Salida.

“That video and that exchange I think is really what gets to the core of what’s going on there,” Engen told the Vail Daily. “Part of what makes her an attractive recall target even considering the left-leaning nature of the district is that this isn’t so much an issue of her policy stances, it’s become an issue of her behavior.”

Donovan defended her behavior during that heated exchange with RMGO members on her Facebook page and added she would not be threatened and bullied by the group.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

One Response to Douglas County, site of latest school shooting, at epicenter of Colorado’s red flag recall debate

  1. Michelle Courtney Reply

    May 8, 2019 at 8:50 am

    Here’s an idea Mr Brown…. instead of spending thousands of dollars trying to put together a recall election…. why don’t you and your NRA friends donate those funds to schools for security officers and metal detectors. I cannot understand why these lobby groups do not take a more community minded approach. It is obvious Americans like their guns and do not want that right taken away…. Gun lobbyist I call on you to extend the olive branch, give back… in addition to donating millions to schools for hunter safety and high school gun clubs, how about donating some of the over 300 million dollars in annual donations to school security officers, metal detectors and mental health programs. In 2016 the NRA spent over 50 million dollars to get Republicans in office…. we get it!!! You don’t want the government to take your guns… then show some compassion and responsibility towards your gun owners and their victims!!! How about one press conference from NRA stating…”we are with you America…kids are hurting and they are using our “gun freedoms” to instill fear and harm and that is NOT what gun freedom is about! We pledge 50 million annually to put in place programs to make schools a safer place of learning, not a place of fear!

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