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Local cops, politicians back controversial red-flag law on mental health, guns

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May 2, 2018, 7:14 am

In case you missed it, the Vail Daily on Tuesday ran a Real Vail story on a controversial red-flag law working its way through the Colorado House of Representatives in the waning days of the legislative session.

dwight henninger mug

Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger

The story focuses on local law enforcement and lawmaker’s take on the bill, HB 1436, because Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger testified in favor of the legislation on Tuesday and Eagle Democratic state Rep. Dylan Roberts voted in favor of it as it passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a 7-4 vote. And Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek supports the law “in concept,” although he has some reservations.

In a nutshell, the bill sets up a civil process by which police and family members can petition a judge for a temporary Extreme Risk Protection Order allowing police to take the guns and ammo of people found to be mentally unstable and a risk to themselves or others – a cooling off period while that person gets treatment.

A second hearing is then required within seven days to determine if there’s clear and convincing evidence to extend the order up to 182 days.

Henninger said it’s a necessary tool to prevent suicides and mass shootings, because under current law a person can be held for 72 hours under an M1 hold for a mental health evaluation but there is no provision for getting firearms away from that person, even temporarily.

The bipartisan bill, backed by top Republican district attorneys like Aurora theater shooting prosecutor and state attorney general candidate George Brauchler, is headed toward a full floor vote by the Democrat-controlled House and then has to make it through the GOP-controlled Senate – all before the session ends next week.

Here’s the full Vail Daily story:

Local police, politicians support red-flag gun law

Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger this week pushed for the passage of a proposed law that would allow police to temporarily confiscate the firearms and ammunition of someone deemed by a judge to represent a risk of harm to the public or themselves.

State Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle

State Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle

“Right now, if an officer goes out on a [call of a] suicidal party and doesn’t have enough to take them into custody for a mental-health evaluation, or even if he does, there’s no way to legally seize any firearms that are there,” Henninger said.

The Deputy Zackari Parrish, III Violence Prevention Act, or House Bill 1436is named for a Douglas County deputy shot to death on New Year’s Eve by a man with a known history of mental illness that had been flagged to police by his parents and educators.

From Douglas County to Parkland, Florida, mass shooters with mental health histories have prompted a flurry of so-called “red flag” laws that allow police or family members to petition a judge for an Extreme Risk Protection Order to temporarily remove weapons while the owner gets treatment.

According to Henninger, who testified before the state House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, four states had red flag laws at the beginning of the year, and now there are eight, with more than 20 others considering such laws. He cites several local examples where the law may have saved lives in recent years.

“[Richard] Rossi [Moreau] is another example,” Henninger said, referring to a Vail man convicted of murder after opening fire at a West Vail bar in 2009. “We took his weapons at one point in time and the judge gave them back. I’m not sure we had any warning signs to him shooting up the bar, but he’s another example.”

And while mass shootings are extremely rare in Vail and surrounding Eagle County, Henninger said suicide is becoming more common.

“There are a number of examples of folks who were here for one reason or another and then ended up committing suicide that we’ve had contact with,” Henninger said. “That’s the bigger deal than some active shooter type of circumstance like a school.”

Eagle County is coming off a record number of suicide deaths in 2017, and state health officials say that of the 1,156 people who commit suicide in 2016, the majority (52 percent) used a gun. They also say using a firearm is by far the most lethal means of committing suicide.

Andrew Romanoff, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, says that “for most folks there is no going back from a gunshot. This bill, if it passes, is not going to stop every tragedy, it’s not going to stop every mass shooting, and it’s not even going to stop every suicide, but it will make a difference. We can’t wait for next year.”

Sponsored by Reps. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Cole Wist, R-Centennial, the law’s temporary Extreme Risk Protective Order launches a civil process that would require a second hearing within seven days to determine if there’s clear and convincing evidence to extend the order up to 182 days.

“This bill has bipartisan support and has been working in red states like Indiana and blue states like California for years,” said Eagle County Rep. Dylan Roberts. “I have heard overwhelming support from constituents of HD26 for months asking for this idea to be brought forward. Personally, as an attorney, prosecutor and legislator, I believe it strikes the right balance between one’s Second Amendment rights and preventing Coloradans from hurting themselves or others.

A House Judiciary Committee member, Roberts voted in favor as the bill passed by a 7-4 vote.

Republican El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, citing a Colorado Springs shooting in 2015, and Republican Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, citing the Douglas County ambush, both testified in support of the law on Tuesday.

The National Rifle Association has recently indicated tepid support for red-flag laws, but the hardline, Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Gun Owners group has signaled staunch opposition on its Facebook page.

Opponents of the bill, including Republican Rep. Patrick Neville – a 1999 Columbine High School massacre survivor and gun-rights advocate — cited concerns that the legislation gives the government far too much power to infringe on citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

Republican Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek echoed some of those same sentiments but generally supports the law.

“I guess in general concept I support it as a tool,” Van Beek said. “I have some reservations because it really comes in on peoples’ rights, so I have some hesitation with that. I’m somewhat comfortable with the concept that it’s consistently reviewed by the courts on a regular basis.

“In concept I agree with it, but [am concerned with] just how they’re going to put it together so that it doesn’t give too much authority for law enforcement to just walk in and make a simple allegation and take away somebody’s rights.”

If the bill now passes a full floor vote in the Democrat-controlled House in the last full week of the current legislative session, it faces a much tougher battle in the Republic-controlled Senate.

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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.

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