DENVER (CBS4)– Hundreds of people packed the state Capitol on Thursday for the first hearing on one of the most contentious bills of the session. It would allow a judge to order the confiscation of a person’s guns for up to a year if they’re considered a significant risk to themselves or others.
Only a family member, significant other, or law enforcement could request a so-called extreme risk protection order. The gun owner would get a hearing and court appointed attorney within two weeks after the guns are seized.
The bill is named after Douglas County Deputy Zachary Parish, who was shot and killed by a man who was mentally unstable. The hearing was held on what would have been Parish’s 31st birthday. Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock among those supporting the bill.
“This bill is about mental health and I keep saying it and I keep hearing people all the time deferring it’s something else. This is a mental health issue. We have a mental health crisis in this state. We have a mental health crisis in this country and this bill is going to be one more step that will help us,” said Spurlock.
Rep. Alec Garnett, one of the bill’s sponsors, agreed to last minute changes to the bill to make sure a person’s guns are returned and concealed carry permits restored when a protection order expires. But, he wouldn’t bend on the biggest sticking point: requiring gun owners to prove they’re not dangerous to get their guns back.
“The judge has said an extreme risk protection order should be in place 364 days. If a respondent wants to say, you know it shouldn’t be in place that long, then it’s on the respondent to come forward and say I’m not a significant risk,” said Garnett, a Democrat representing Denver.
Dave Kopel, a Second Amendment expert, says the gun owner shouldn’t have to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, they deserve the right to possess guns.
“How do you prove you’re non-dangerous in this? That’s a high standard. There would have to be some burden of proof, but this is set at the highest level of burden of proof in civil cases and proving a negative can often be very difficult,” said Kopel.
He says one jilted lover could weaponize the bill.
Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son died in the Aurora Theater shooting, says one mentally unstable person with a gun could do much worse. As the co-sponsor of the bill, the Democrat representing Centennial made a plea to committee members, “I hope and I pray that you are standing with me and doing the right thing.”
The bill requires the judicial department to keep track of the number of extreme risk protection orders. The non-partisan legislative council estimates there would be about 170 a year based on what they’ve seen in the handful of other states with similar laws.