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Republicans eager to start recalling “overreaching” Democrats who are simply doing what Colorado voters overwhelming sent them to Denver to do last November should pay attention to the words of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who promises to campaign on behalf of elected officials targeted for supporting the state’s new red flag gun law.
Weiser made his comments in Vail last week after speaking to a law enforcement conference. More importantly, Weiser also promised to vigorously defend the constitutionality of the law – the 15th of its kind enacted around the nation.
Polling shows 60 percent of Colorado Republicans support the red flag law, so the public sentiment clearly runs against elected officials opposing the law and preferring the status quo in the face of an epidemic of gun deaths (both suicides and homicides) in Colorado and across the nation.
Increasingly, Republicans are revealing their true political motivations for recall campaigns, which until 2013 were reserved for corruption or malfeasance – and in fact had never been successfully accomplished until the GOP targeted three Democrats for gun laws.
Democrats quickly regained those seats, but a precedent was established. Now Republicans are targeting Greeley Democrat Rochelle Galindo, allegedly for her vote to more stringently regulate the oil and gas industry.
Recent interviews show those motivations are bogus, and Republicans have further revealed their tactics by promising more recalls over a variety of policy issues – not malfeasance or corruption. Democrats, independents and fair-minded Republicans need to be wary of recall mania sweeping the Colorado GOP. Democracy works better when parties win fairly at the polls.
Red flag may have a vocal minority seeing red, but the majority of Coloradans want reasonable gun safety legislation – and getting guns away from mentally unstable and dangerous people makes sense to most of society.
Here’s a re-post of a Saturday story on the topic that RealVail.com produced for the Vail Daily:
Attorney General Weiser confident sheriffs will enforce red flag law
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on Thursday said he’s skeptical any sheriff in the state – including Eagle County’s – will refuse to enforce the new red flag law that will allow police to confiscate guns from people deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.
“Your job is to protect people and to enforce the law, and the idea that you could pick and choose what laws you will enforce is antithetical to the rule of law,” Weiser told the Vail Daily following the U.S. Attorney’s Law Enforcement Conference at the Vail Marriott on Thursday.
More than half of Colorado’s counties reportedly oppose the law, signed by Gov. Jared Polis on April 12, and at least 10 sheriffs have said they’d rather be found in contempt of court and locked up in their own jails rather than take away someone’s guns.
Asked if he would compel sheriffs to enforce the law if they refuse to when it goes into effect on Jan. 1, Weiser again said he doubts it will come to that when and if sheriffs actually face “the extreme risk” of someone who is mentally ill and clearly a threat to the community.
“We’re going to have to confront that situation if and when it happens,” Weiser said of Colorado’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law. “I am skeptical it’s going to happen. I believe when push comes to shove, it’s not going to happen, but if it does … we’ll have to see.”
Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek supported the concept of the law with some reservations last year before it was killed in the Republican-controlled state Senate, but this year he withheld public comment until the day Polis signed it into law – writing a 3,000-plus-word Facebook post opposing the measure on constitutional grounds and its failure to address mental health.
On April 15, van Beek appeared on the Fox & Friends television show, where host Brian Kilmeade introduced him by stating, “Colorado’s controversial red flag gun law is now on the books, meaning guns can be taken away from people who are determined to be dangerous, but one sheriff in that state is vowing not to enforce the controversial new law …”
Van Beek, in fact, never said during the interview that he wouldn’t enforce the law. Nor did he make that statement in his lengthy Facebook post.
“I have never said I wouldn’t enforce it,” van Beek told the Vail Daily Thursday. “Just that I think it is a bad law as they failed to address the root problem, which is mental health, and that I do believe, along with many other sheriffs, that there are constitutional issues with this law and I would stand with those sheriffs challenging those issues.”
Colorado is the 15th state to adopt some version of Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation, and this version is named after Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Zackari Parrish, who was killed by a mentally disturbed man whose parents had warned he was a heavily armed threat to the community. The law is backed by Republican Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock.
Weiser on Thursday promised to vigorously support anyone facing recall as a result of voting for or supporting the red flag bill, which he says will save lives – both from homicides and suicides.
“This law is constitutional,” said Weiser, who is the former dean of the University of Colorado Law School, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court law clerk. “I will be defending the extreme risk protection law if it’s challenged. Fifteen states have it now, including Colorado, and every other state where it’s been challenged it’s been upheld.”
But van Beek insists the new law is fraught with constitutional problems.
“I stand with other sheriffs in opposition to the red flag law on constitutional grounds as well as its failure to address the true issues, which are behavioral and mental health,” van Beek wrote on Facebook. But he added that Eagle County, unlike other counties opposing the law across the state, does not need to declare itself a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary county.
That’s because, he said, Eagle County has “always utilized discretion in the implementation of our duties and will continue to do so … Gov. Polis understands this priority, as he stated on March 26, that he believes sheriffs are committed to enforcing laws approved at the capitol, but he also said they have discretion to decide which issues to focus on.”
Weiser acknowledged there’s a profound lack of mental health services in Colorado, especially in rural areas, but that’s no reason to hold off on red flag gun laws.
“I do not understand the argument that goes like this, ‘Because we don’t have adequate mental health services, let’s let people who are mentally ill keep their weapons,’” Weiser said. “That’s what you’re saying, which is, ‘Let’s tolerate a level of risk that is avoidable.’”
Weiser added that Eagle County is making great strides toward adequately funding and providing mental health services, including the 1A marijuana sales tax and a $60 million commitment to behavioral health by Vail Health.
He added that the state is also trying to do its part on multiple fronts. Several bills in the current legislative session address mental and behavioral health, and the attorney general’s office has created a framework for the Department of Health and Human Services to more rapidly provide competency determinations for mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice system.
Weiser also said his office is vigorously defending the federal Affordable Care Act, which includes funding for mental health via Medicaid and Medicare expansions and mandates mental health parity with traditional health care coverage by private health insurance plans.
Finally, Weiser points to a Colorado lawsuit first filed by his predecessor, former Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, against Oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma. Saying he may expand the suit to include other manufacturers, Weiser adds any settlement funds will be directed toward substance abuse and mental health treatment throughout Colorado.
“We have a lot of work to do on this front,” Weiser said. “My view is we have to do both. I wouldn’t be in favor of not passing Extreme Risk Protection Order because we haven’t done enough mental health [services], and I wouldn’t be comfortable not doing enough mental health. We have to be working on both fronts.
“The reality is our jails and prisons by default end up becoming a place that’s providing mental health services, and not at the level we need. I’d much rather be providing alternative facilities and relieving jails and prisons,” Weiser added.