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Colo. sheriffs, once skeptical, are putting red flag laws to use

“If a gentleman pulls a rifle on my deputy and then comes and threatens to shoot up my courthouse, I’ve got a problem with that person having a gun,” said Sheriff Don Wilson

Sheriff Joe Pelle

Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County, Colo., speaks before Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs a bill to allow Colorado to become the 15th state in the union to adopt a “red flag” gun law on Friday, April 12, 2019, in the State Capitol in Denver.

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

By Suzie Ziegler

DOLORES COUNTY, Colo. — Some Colorado sheriffs who previously denounced red flag laws have softened their stance and are now using the red flag laws, CNN reported on Monday.

One such case is Don Wilson, the sheriff of rural Dolores County. When Colorado passed red flag laws in 2019, Wilson believed the law would make it too easy to take a person’s guns away. Red flag laws allow police officers or private citizens to petition a county court to confiscate firearms temporarily from gunowners who may pose a threat to themselves or others, according to CNN.

Wilson’s opinion changed in August 2020 after a man pulled a rifle on a deputy. The man threatened to kill his neighbors and himself.

“If a gentleman pulls a rifle on my deputy and then comes and threatens to shoot up my courthouse and kill me, kill the judges, and kill the district attorney … I’ve got a problem with that person having a gun,” Wilson told CNN.

Wilson petitioned for and was granted an extreme protection order to take the man’s weapons. Still, Wilson says he doesn’t fully trust the red flag laws.

“All it is is one person’s word against another,” Wilson told CNN.

Wilson isn’t the only sheriff who has expressed misgivings about red flag laws. After the legislation passed, 37 Colorado counties declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” However, over two years later, protection orders have been filed in 20 of those counties, often by the sheriffs themselves, CNN reported. In fact, 85% of protection orders granted by judges in Colorado were filed by law enforcement, according to the report.

“These are sheriffs and law enforcement who were originally saying, ‘We want nothing to do with this law,’” said Lisa Geller, state affairs adviser for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, to CNN. “But in practice, they are using it, and this is not something that’s unique to Colorado. Law enforcement ended up realizing, ‘Hey, this is the best tool we have to protect ourselves.’”

Some opponents of red flag laws worry the legislation could be misused against law-abiding citizens. In one case, a woman falsely claimed she shared a child with a police officer to try to get the officer’s guns taken away. However, a judge soundly rejected that petition.

“We’re just really not seeing [cases like that],” said Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle to CNN. “What we are seeing is that law enforcement has a tool to use in cases where someone is truly a risk to themselves or others and shouldn’t have a firearm.”

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