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Colorado's Red Flag law: Agencies scramble to come up with policies

Posted at 7:06 PM, Dec 04, 2019

DENVER -- Less than a month from Colorado's Red Flag law taking effect, many questions remain over how the controversial new law will be enforced.

The state issued a model policy this week, but it does not lay out what police are supposed to do if someone refuses to give up their guns, leaving the matter to individual law enforcement agencies to decide.

"We are now in a situation where local law enforcement has discretion on a case-by-case basis to do what's best," said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. "They're going to know the individual who has a firearm. They're going to know their communities. They're going to know their officers. They're going to learn over time, and over time, we may be in a position to offer more specific guidance on best practice, but right now, we didn't want to put a one-size-fits-all solution in place."

The law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, allows police to seize weapons from a person who is a risk to themselves or others. The bill passed during the 2019 legislative session and has received national attention after Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish was gunned down by a man in mental distress.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle's son is an officer who was also shot that day and survived. Since then, Pelle has been a vocal supporter of Red Flag laws. His department is now putting guidelines in place when his deputies have an order to seize guns: anyone refusing to give up their weapons could face immediate arrest.

"This is just another part of our job, and we are coming up with a road map," said Pelle. "The thing about this is, you can plan for it, and you can figure out how to do it safely."

But Colorado is divided. About half of the counties in the state say they won't enforce the orders, including Weld County Sheriff Steven Reams, who promised in March he would go to jail first.

Some sheriff's offices are waiting impatiently for the law to be challenged in court, and until then, many have different ideas about enforcement. Some have reportedly said they won't "force the issue" if someone refuses to give up their guns, even though Weiser said under the law, they can force the seizure.

The new guidelines do say officers must give people options for storing their guns and that officers can't take ammunition or magazines.

"We're going to have those cases come up. Sheriff's are going to be in a position to save lives," said Weiser. "My belief is law enforcement will act to protect the public to save lives because when it's about saving lives, law enforcement, I don't believe, will turn their back."