On Monday, a crowd gathered to passionately implore the Garfield County Commissioners to become a “Second Amendment Preservation County.”
Once the commissioners signed a resolution stating as much, the crowd burst into rounds of applause.
The county joined dozens of other Colorado counties in opposing the “Red Flag” bill, which Governor Polis is expected to soon sign into law.
It allows for family members or law enforcement to petition judges to remove guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
What some see as a constitutional violation, others see as a life-saving measure.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky says the bill infringes on the constitutional right to bear arms.
Furthermore, it purports to address mental health issues, but, in reality, does nothing to curb the high suicide rates, or provide more access to treatment, which are very serious problems, he says.
“Mental health is underfunded, let’s put it that way,” Jankovsky said.
Removing guns, he says, doesn’t solve the problem.
In their resolution, Garfield County’s commissioners state they won’t pay for the enforcement of the Red Flag bill, once it becomes law.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario says if he needs to hire more deputies, or ends up confiscating so many guns that he needs additional storage space, the commissioners won’t approve additional funding.
Vallario himself is an outspoken critic of the bill, which, he says, violates due process: A person might not know their guns are being taken away until a police officer knocks on their door.
It’s on the person whose guns are removed to prove to a judge they deserve them back.
“What happened to innocent until proven guilty? [The Red Flag bill] really lends to: You’re guilty until you can prove you’re innocent,” Vallario said.
He says it’s unclear the law will actually save lives. Some say it will prevent suicides.
“I don’t believe that for a minute,” Vallario said.
Mental health professionals point to research that suggests otherwise.
Jackie Skramstad, the Clinical Operations Manager for Mind Springs Health, a non-profit community mental health center with offices throughout Northwest Colorado, says temporarily limiting access to what she calls “lethal means,” whether that’s pills or guns, decreases rates of suicide.
Dying by suicide is often an impulsive choice.
“When you have something like a firearm right there, there is no room to change your mind in five minutes,” Skramstad said.
She says most suicides involve firearms. If someone is thinking about shooting themselves, and their access to guns is taken away, the research suggests they don’t try and find another way of killing themselves.
“They will be less likely to go find other means,” she said.
Sheriff Vallario questions if it’s the government’s job to step in and remove guns, even if people are suicidal.
He says mental health issues need to be addressed long before a crisis.
“We all want to get ahead of the game, get people the mental health they need, before they do something dangerous, violent, deadly, before they commit a crime, before they end up in jail. But this bill doesn’t do anything for that,” he said.
Despite his opposition to the Red Flag bill, he says he’ll still enforce it, which isn’t the case with all Colorado Sheriffs; at least one has pledged he’ll go to jail before enforcing it.
“I don’t, at this point, have a desire to challenge that order, or defy that order,” Vallario said.
Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign the bill any day now. When he does, Colorado joins 13 other states with similar laws.