So-called “red flag” laws were all the rage a couple years ago. These are laws designed to remove weapons from unstable people who might otherwise use those weapons to harm themselves or others. Even Donald Trump championed the concept. In 2019, he said states should adopt such measures to “…make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.”
Gun fetishists were, of course, outraged their Great Leader would support such a thing. Even before the Colorado Legislature passed the Violence Prevention Act (our “red flag” law), sheriffs throughout Colorado collectively knee-jerked a response. More than half of Colorado’s counties declared themselves to be 2nd Amendment Sanctuaries. I don’t recall any firey bombast from our sheriff, Tom McGraw, about the measure. Still, our county commissioners resolved Park County to be a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary County (Resolution 2019-15). The resolution assumed the Colorado law to be unconstitutional. It provided that commissioners would support the sheriff in his efforts to not enforce the unconstitutional provisions of the law.
Curiously, the Park County resolution cites the three Supreme Court 2nd Amendment cases to bolster its conclusion Colorado’s law is unconstitutional: District of Columbia v. Heller; McDonald v. Chicago; and United States v. Miller.
The curious aspect to the commissioners citing those particular 2nd Amendment cases is the opinions from those cases obviously affirm 2nd Amendment rights are not absolute. Here’s part of the ruling in the Heller case: “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those ‘in common use at the time’ finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”
The McDonald decision reiterated the Heller conclusion, including verbatim the language pointing out that 2nd Amendment rights are not absolute.
Colorado’s Violence Protection Act took effect on January 1, 2020. During the initial year of its implementation, about 100 unique petitions were filed. Courts issued sixty-six Temporary Orders and forty-nine 364-day Orders during 2020. And who filed those red flag petitions? Law enforcement filed 96% of the petitions resulting in a temporary order and 85% of those resulting in a 364-day order. Household or family members filed 32% and 15%, respectively. Judges declined to issue Orders in cases where the petition lacked evidence of credible threats or included only vague allegations.
The published report on the Act’s first year notes: “Year-one data shows that courts issued Orders in situations where individuals threatened suicide, intimate partner violence, and mass shootings. Most red flag petitions involved situations where individuals struggled with mental health or substance abuse issues. A third of the 364-day Orders were issued after the respondent made suicidal threats, and another third of the Orders were issued to respondents who threatened to harm others with their firearms. The remaining third of the 364-day Orders involved individuals who threatened both suicide and harm to others. …only four instances of clearly inappropriate attempted use of the red flag process [were found], all of which involved the petitioner falsely characterizing their relationship to the respondent. In all four cases, courts denied the red flag petition. One case led to perjury charges against the petitioner.”
Imagine that. Colorado’s population is about 5.7 million. Yet, amongst all those folks, only about 100 red flag petitions were filed with the courts. So, were 100 gun deaths avoided via the law?
I own guns. I know how to use them and legally conceal/carry. Not for a moment have I ever feared the feds would one day knock on my door and take my guns. So when the gun nuts set their hair on fire about Colorado’s red flag law, I knew their jingoistic posturing was more about their message than the new law. The Republican Perspective in last week’s Flume advanced this message. What the Republican writer intimated was laws and governmental mandates structured by Democrats are only suggestions, i.e., “I’ll decide if I want to abide by them or not.”
Thanks to Donald Trump and his minions, disdain for the rule of law is endemic. If you don’t think our republic is in dire trouble because of that, think again.