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Legislative panel approves ‘red flag’ gun bill after fierce testimony from both sides

House Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 on party-line vote
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, back, follows Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle as he heads to speak during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on a bill to get a “red flag” gun law on the books in Colorado on Thursday in Denver. The bill, which is backed by several law enforcement officials, would allow for the seizure of weapons from people deemed by a court to pose a significant risk to themselves and to others.

DENVER – A Colorado legislative panel gave initial approval to a controversial “red flag” bill that allows courts to seize firearms from people considered to be a threat to themselves and others.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill Thursday night on a party-line vote of 7-4. House Bill 1177 now heads to the Appropriations Committee.

Similar “red flag” bills have been adopted in 12 states, and HB 1177 is backed by some Colorado sheriffs and police officers whose colleagues have died in shootouts with armed people suffering from mental illness.

The bill would allow family or law enforcement to flag someone as a threat and seek a court order to have that person’s firearms seized. If approved, a hearing would determine whether to extend seizure for as many as 364 days. A gun owner must petition the court to have his or her firearms returned.

“We have a mental health crisis in this state, a crisis in this country,” said Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who lost a deputy in 2017 in a shootout with a man with mental illness. “This bill helps us get through that.”

State Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Aurora, front, listens as House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on a bill to get a “red flag” gun law on the books in Colorado on Thursday in Denver. The bill, which is backed by several law enforcement officials, would allow for the seizure of weapons from people deemed by a court to pose a significant risk to themselves and to others.

Lawmakers heard nearly 10 hours of testimony from Coloradans who shared their stories of loved ones killed by guns. But gun owners and activists showed up to register concerns that the bill violates a constitutional right to own a gun. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a nonprofit gun rights group based in Loveland, came to the hearing with 10,000 petitions, stacked in four boxes, all against the bill. Largely absent from the hours of testimony were the voices of rural residents and officials in Western Slope communities far from Denver.

But with a Democratic majority securing votes on the committee, the bill was assured passage despite controversy and hours of testimony. District Attorney George Brauchler, who represents the 18th Judicial District on the Front Range and supported a version last session, said the bill went too far.

“This bill as it is right now is just too far left of a right idea,” he said.

rhandy@durangoherald.com

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