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The sheriff’s office in El Paso County, Colorado — the county where five people were killed at the gay nightclub Club Q last week — has never pursued action under the state’s red flag law, The Colorado Sun reported.
The law, which went into effect in 2020, allows law enforcement or family members of a person to petition a judge to temporarily take firearms away from them if they’re deemed a risk to themselves or others.
Colorado Democrats have questioned why law enforcement — which is not mandated to petition a judge under the law — did not previously use it in the case of Club Q shooting suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was arrested last year after threatening to harm his mother with a bomb and other weapons.
The El Paso County District Attorney’s Office did not pursue formal charges in the since-sealed case, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
A sheriff’s office spokesman confirmed to The Colorado Sun that the office has not initiated an extreme risk protection order — the first move to initiate a firearms seizure. However, he did not say why it has never taken action under the law.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment.
The law lets judges issue the order if the petitioner reveals a person to pose “a significant risk of causing personal injury to self or others in the near future by having in his or her custody or control a firearm or by purchasing, possessing or receiving a firearm.”
The Colorado Sun noted that it’s unclear whether the order could have been used on the suspect but, unless it was extended, it would have expired prior to Saturday’s tragedy.
Allison Anderman, senior counsel at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told the newspaper that law enforcement could pursue the order even if “witnesses are uncooperative and when criminal charges have not been filed.”
Bill Elder, the sheriff of El Paso County, which county officials deemed a “Second Amendment preservation county” in 2019, previously criticized the law in an interview with KOAA-TV.
“We’re going to be taking personal property away from people without having due process,” he said. “We’re not going to pursue these on our own, meaning the sheriff’s office isn’t going to run over and try and get a court order.”
The office later noted in 2020 that it would not pursue the order “unless exigent circumstances exist, and probable cause can be established … that a crime is being or has been committed.”
Colorado, which is among 19 states along with the District of Columbia that have red flag laws, had the seventh-lowest rate of gun surrender orders per 100,000 adults in those regions, The Associated Press reported in September.
El Paso County was one of dozens of Colorado counties that called themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries”; however, sheriffs in those counties have still filed petitions since, Kaiser Health News reported.
Colorado state Rep. Meg Froelich (D) told Colorado Public Radio that the state legislature should look at closing “loopholes” in the law.
“When there are loopholes in enforcement, whatever they are, is it from a failure to follow the intent of the law, or is it a failure of the legislature to compel that piece of it?” Froelich said.