The sheriffs of Pitkin and Garfield counties, as in most of their political leanings, have differing opinions on a proposed measure moving through the Colorado Legislature that would allow a judge to order the seizure of guns from a person deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
Lou Vallario of Garfield County opined this week that House Bill 1177 is an attempt to take away law-abiding citizens’ guns under the guise of mental health concerns, mentioning “our right to ‘keep and bear arms.’”
“Although I understand and support the intent of focusing on dangerous people with mental health issues and violent crime, this bill is not the answer, and I oppose it,” he wrote in a statement released by his office.
Under the proposed measure, a family member or law enforcement officer could seek a temporary “extreme risk protection order” from a judge. Evidence must indicate that the person poses a significant risk to themselves or others by possessing a firearm.
That would trigger a second court proceeding within 14 days in which the petitioner must show “clear and convincing evidence” that the respondent is still a danger. The judge would then determine if the person’s weapons should be held for up to 364 days to allow the person to seek treatment. Judges would be able to order such treatment.
In such a scenario, the person would be required to turn over all of their guns to law enforcement or a federally licensed firearm dealer. To get them back, the person would have to prove, to a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, that he is no longer a danger.
Vallario said several sheriffs have testified during the legislative process for and against, “but I can assure you that I side with the many sheriffs opposing this law.”
He wrote that he is against the measure because it “falls short of the intent to focus on mental health issues and focuses only on taking guns away from non-criminal Coloradans.
“In the 30-plus pages, there is nothing in this bill that provides any mental health resources for the population it targets,” his statement says. “It only focuses on the unconstitutional process of taking guns, and it completely lacks due process.”
The sheriff added that the bill requires a judge to determine the mental health status of the person in question, “rather than require any mental health evaluations, competency hearings or testimony by mental health professionals. It only requires the testimony of a family member or a law enforcement officer.
“While the legal standard for a judge to issue the protection order is high, I believe these judicial decisions will be very subjective across the state given the particular judicial district where the hearing is held,” he wrote.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo on Friday countered that law enforcement officers routinely assess a person’s mental health and that the burden of proof for enforcing the proposed law would be similar to when a cop makes a request for an arrest warrant. Judges also regularly instruct weapons to be confiscated from a person who is the subject of a restraining order, he said, questioning how the new bill would be any different.
“I think anything we can do to keep guns from people who are potentially dangerous to themselves or somebody else is something we should be proactive on,” he said. “There has to be some supporting evidence from a family member or a police officer. I don’t see this as a threat to the Second Amendment.”
A board member of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, DiSalvo was outnumbered by other top cops opposing House Bill 1177 and said he didn’t speak out as a result. He was not asked to speak in support of the bill at the Legislature.
But DiSalvo is adamant that the measure should become law in an attempt to prevent gun violence, mass shootings and suicides by gun.
Vallario’s statement says that while “there are very sincere people behind [the bill], the anti-gun lobby see this as another opportunity to eliminate guns and violate the Constitution.”
DiSalvo, however, said that when a person’s family member voices alarm at the availability of a firearm, or an officer or deputy deems someone is too threatening, “you lose your Second Amendment right to have a gun.
“I’m having trouble making a separation between, if you commit a felony, you lose your right to vote. We do take some rights away from people,” he said. “We’re turning this into a Second Amendment issue, and I don’t see it that way. ... To use the parlance of the day, this is a dog whistle. This is ‘one more step toward taking away our guns.’ I just don’t see anybody who would be opposed to somebody who may be violent or threatening to not have something that could hurt somebody or themselves.”
He reiterated that judges in restraining-order cases routinely instruct his deputies to go into a person’s home to seize his or her firearms.
“I don’t see sheriffs lining up opposing that,” DiSalvo said.
Deputies and officers every day observe the behaviors of people they interact with, and gauge their mental stability and whether they are a danger.
“I know instability when I see it,” he said.
If someone is witnessing a pattern of escalating behavior in a loved one with a firearm nearby, “what’s wrong with saying, ‘OK, we’re taking that away from you. Let’s figure out what’s going on with you.’
“I think we are on some levels mental health professionals.”
The Colorado House passed Bill 1177 this week, and it is now in the hands of the state Senate.