If there’s anything we’ve learned over the years, it’s that there are no moral victories in a gun massacre. But in the aftermath of the slaughter at Club Q, there have been, just possibly, a few semi-hopeful reactions.
One, of course, is the growing disgust many feel toward those who, having lost on the same-sex-marriage culture-war front, are now accusing drag show performers, transgender people and others in the LGBTQ community of being so-called “groomers” who would molest children themselves or “groom” them for others.
It’s an updated, QAnon-era take on the old, widely debunked slander that conflates gay men with pedophiles. And somehow, during the midterm election campaigns, furries and litter boxes also became part of that conversation. Trust me, the war on furries is related to all this. I can only assume that Heidi Ganahl, who lost by 18 points in her race for governor against openly gay Jared Polis, thought that bringing up the non-issue — which is a sideways, not to mention absurd, shot at those who are LGBTQ — would somehow help her cause.
Let’s just agree that it didn’t, just as we can agree that the phony issue helped make Ganahl a statewide laughingstock. It may not have helped Lauren Boebert either.
But there’s also this piece of heartening news: Some people across the country are now asking why Colorado’s red flag law was never used against the Club Q shooter, who, in June 2021, was accused of felony menacing and kidnapping in a case that never went to trial. The shooter’s mother called 911, saying that her son was threatening her with guns and a homemade bomb. The cops came, and there was a standoff.
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The case was later dropped, and if you’re looking for a few missing details, that’s because the El Paso County’s district attorney’s office lsealed the case. The Colorado Sun, along with other major news organizations, is going to court to try to get the case unsealed.
But knowing only as much as we do, it’s easy to see that the red flag law — officially known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO for short) — was designed with this kind of case in mind.
For those confused about why the law wasn’t invoked, they must not remember back to 2019 — back when the controversial law was being debated in the state legislature.
When Colorado boldly passed its red flag law — as one of 19 states, along with the District of Columbia, to have one — anyone paying close attention feared that it would have regrettably little impact.
That’s not because the law isn’t a good law. It is a good law. I’d even say it’s a very good law, as these things go. When you hear opponents of the law say it’s not a panacea for gun violence — yes, some actually say that — you have to question the logic that says any law involving guns would have to solve all gun violence in order to be worthwhile.
What we knew from the beginning was that many sheriffs and district attorneys in the state would never use the law. We actually knew that before the law even passed because a lot of sheriffs and DAs said so. And loudly. I mean, when a sheriff personally decides that a law is unconstitutional — without the help of, say, a judge or even a lawyer — it would be hard not to laugh if the matter weren’t just that serious.
And then, of course, a long list of sadly unserious county commissioners entered the fray. Thirty-some counties in Colorado have declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” which is apparently a play on those cities and states that critics say serve as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants.
Among those who said from the beginning they wouldn’t enforce the law were, of course, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the El Paso County Commissioners, who determined — again without help from, say, a law professor — that the law “infringes up in the inalienable rights of the citizens of unincorporated El Paso County.”
And guess what: In the aftermath of the Club Q massacre, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder told The Sun that his office has never made use of the red flag law, under which judges can issue an order to temporarily remove firearms from a person believed to be a danger to himself or others. Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers says we shouldn’t just assume that the red flag law would have applied to the shooter’s 2021 incident.
Here’s a primer on the law: A family member, a household member or a law enforcement official can initiate the process, and the person whose guns are removed is eligible for a hearing after 14 days to have the order lifted.
There’s a strange twist to the objection to the law, starting with the fact that, according to polls, 70% to 80% of people favor red flag laws. We know the drill that generally follows gun massacres. Those who don’t want to do anything about gun safety will first offer “thoughts and prayers” and then change the subject. But since disingenuous thoughts and prayers have been widely mocked, the gun rights people have attempted to shift the story to mental health issues.
It’s not that mental health isn’t a major problem in the country — as in presumably most countries — but it’s hardly the answer to ending gun violence. But the red flag law does address mental health issues, including the danger of suicide. More people die of suicide by gun than homicide by gun.
But as I wondered back when the law was being debated and some counties were threatening to become Second Amendment sanctuaries counties, could resistance possibly mean that if, say, a Denver judge rules, after hearing sworn testimony, that guns needed to be removed from an individual, that person could race to, say, Weld County to avoid the ruling. And Weld County would conceivably offer a well-armed mentally disturbed person, uh, sanctuary?
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I don’t know if that’s ever happened in Colorado or anywhere else. Or if it would be legal. But I could see it happening, even if we assume that most sheriffs would follow a judge’s ruling.
And yet, this is the sad fact of the Colorado law: According to an Associated Press report, Colorado makes use of the red flag law about a third as often as other states with the law.
Polis, who signed the bill into law, says the problem is that not enough people know about the law and that we need to “evangelize” in order for family members and household members to make use of it.
Maybe he’s right. But I’d guess it’s just the same old story about guns. When other countries have suffered from gun massacres or face out-of-control gun violence, they often try to do something about them. In America, we grieve for the victims and then we pretend we can do no more.
And even if there is a law, as in Colorado, that allows for a 14-day timeout for potentially dangerous people, for much of the gun-rights lobby, that’s apparently 14 days too many.
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