Colorado sheriff would choose jail over enforcing red flag laws

Colorado is moving toward joining the ranks of other states passing so-called “red flag” gun control laws. It’s a new trend that allows citizens to report individuals exhibiting erratic or potentially dangerous behavior (if they are closely associated with or related to them) and have the police come to confiscate the individual’s firearms until they can prove they’re not dangerous. But there’s one sheriff in Colorado who has no intention of enforcing these laws and, according to CNN, he’s willing to go to jail rather than abandon his principles.

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams disagrees so much with a gun bill making its way through the Colorado legislature that he’s willing to go to jail rather than enforce it.

“It’s a matter of doing what’s right,” he said.

He’s not the only one who feels so strongly.

The controversial “red flag” bill aims to seize guns temporarily from people who are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

The state can expect to see a lot more of this sort of controversy. Colorado has 32 counties that have already declared themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries where local law enforcement will refuse to enforce laws they deem to be infringing on the right to keep and bear arms. And it’s not as if there’s even a significant majority of lawmakers in favor of the bill. It passed the state Senate by one vote this week, without the support of a single Republican. Heading into a national election cycle, this will likely be an issue that splits the state right down the middle.

I’m still on the fence about these red flag bills. Anyone who visits this site regularly already knows me as an ardent defender of the Second Amendment. But at the same time, I’m obviously troubled when we hear stories about people with a history of police reports describing them as violent, erratic or suicidal who wind up injuring or killing themselves or others. So from an emotional perspective, I’m not immediately writing off such legislation.

But at the same time, this sort of system is so clearly open to potential abuse. We recently discussed the fact that these red flag laws have resulted in literally thousands of gun confiscations just in the last year. They’re also very problematic from a constitutional perspective as well. Even if someone has been acting in a worrisome fashion, depriving them of their rights before they’ve broken any laws seems unsupportable. We wind up leaving the accused in a position where they have to go to court and prove their own innocence after having been accused by someone who may or may not have their best interests in mind. That’s not how the system is supposed to work.

So I’m left finding myself sympathetic of the intent of such laws, but unable to see a way to implement them in a fair and constitutional manner. Some critics have raised the stark possibility that a person planning violence against someone could falsely report them under such a law to make sure the victim was unarmed for a couple of weeks. But it doesn’t even have to be anything that dire. All it takes to deprive someone of their rights is a ticked off girlfriend, roommate or in-law picking up the phone. And in a county where both law enforcement and the courts are staffed by people who oppose the Second Amendment, someone could be tied up in court for years trying to clear their name and retain their rights.