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Politics and Government

Polis says law enforcement doesn’t have to use “red flag” bill, dodges questions about whether sheriffs should resign

The governor compared the measure making its way through the Colorado legislature to jaywalking when explaining how law enforcement can prioritize its use

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters on March 26, 2019, in his office in the Colorado Capitol. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Gov. Jared Polis said Colorado law enforcement has the discretion not to use the tools under the so-called red flag gun bill, even though he supports the legislation expected to pass soon in the state legislature.

He also would not answer repeated questions about whether he agrees with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser that sheriffs who fail to comply with a judicial order under the legislation should resign.

The measure would allow judges to order the temporary seizure of firearms from someone deemed a significant risk to themselves or others. Polis, a Democrat, compared not using the provisions offered under the bill to law enforcement not enforcing jaywalking ordinances.

“Every law enforcement agency has limited resources, and they do have to prioritize what they choose to enforce or not enforce,” he told the news media Tuesday.

The legislation, House Bill 1177, is making its way through the Colorado Senate and is en route to Polis’ desk for a signature. As it nears final passage, the measure has drawn increasing scrutiny from Republican opponents, especially inside the statehouse and from conservative sheriffs across Colorado who believe the legislation isn’t constitutional.

Some of those sheriffs have said they will not carry out gun seizures under the red flag bill. Law enforcement is not required to use the proposed law to seek a judge’s permission to execute seizures, but family members can also request a court order that guns be taken from an at-risk person, which would then have to be carried out by a sheriff or police department.

Weiser, a Democrat, testified before a legislative committee earlier this month that any Colorado sheriff who refuses to act on a court-ordered extreme-risk protection order under the red flag bill “should resign.”

“If a sheriff cannot follow the law, the sheriff cannot do his or her job,” Weiser said.

MORE: Colorado’s attorney general says sheriffs who won’t carry out a red flag bill court order “should resign”

Polis sidestepped two questions about whether he agrees with Weiser. However, he did say that he thinks sheriffs will uphold the law should they be faced with an order to seize someone’s weapons.  

“I’m fully confident that all of them will implement laws that we pass here through the Democratic process without prejudice,” he said. “Of course, sheriff is not a lawmaking position in our state, it is a law enforcement position.”

But the governor couched those remarks by saying that sheriffs also “have the ability to prioritize their resources in regard to law enforcement.”

He added: “Every law enforcement agency has to make prioritization a factor.”

Polis’ remarks Tuesday came during his first briefing with reporters since the start of the 2019 Colorado legislative session, almost 80 days ago. He took 14 minutes of questions and mostly deflected inquiries about a number of the most pressing issues that are causing gridlock in the state’s House and Senate.

Polis’ predecessor, John Hickenlooper, regularly met with reporters during the legislative session.

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