Coloradans React To 'Red Flag' Law Some sheriffs oppose red flag laws, which allow guns to be taken away from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. That can bring tension when police from the same county enforce them.
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Coloradans React To 'Red Flag' Law

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Coloradans React To 'Red Flag' Law

Coloradans React To 'Red Flag' Law

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

After 31 people were killed in mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, President Trump expressed support this week for what's known as a red flag law. It's legislation that allows guns to be temporarily removed from people in crisis.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process.

PFEIFFER: Red flag laws are already on the books in 17 states. Leigh Paterson reports from member station KUNC on how the controversial legislation is playing out in northern Colorado.

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LEIGH PATERSON, BYLINE: It's Friday night in a town called Windsor. And the conservative, gun-loving rocker Ted Nugent is entertaining a crowd, talking freedom, politics and guns.

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TED NUGENT: You know why you have too many elk, don't you? I haven't been here in years.

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PATERSON: It was Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams who invited Nugent here. The event is a fundraiser for the sheriff.

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STEVE REAMS: We're up here talking about the red flag bill. That's what we're getting all this notoriety for in the state.

PATERSON: Colorado's red flag bill, officially called the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, is now law, set to take effect in January. It'll allow family members or law enforcement to get a court order forcing an individual to temporarily give up their guns if they appear to be a significant risk to themselves or others. Sheriff Reams believes Colorado's law is unconstitutional.

REAMS: The long and short of it is this. I'm not going to confiscate someone's guns.

PATERSON: Reams is talking about all of this partially because it's a political issue. He's an elected official, unlike police chiefs, who are generally appointed.

MARK JONES: Well, obviously, it's my role as the police chief to make sure the department enforces the laws that are on the books.

PATERSON: This is Mark Jones, head of the Greeley Police Department, who says he's planning to enforce the law but also understands concerns around it. On one hand, Jones supports the Second Amendment.

JONES: On the other hand, I also am a police chief in an era where mental health issues are probably at all-time highs all across the country, not just in Greeley or just in Weld County. I do believe there are people in our society that have no business having guns.

PATERSON: Many states have passed these laws in the aftermath of mass shootings. But in practice, they're often used in situations involving domestic violence and self-harm.

KIMBERLY PRATT: Firearms are the most lethal way that people die from suicide and also the most common way that people die from suicide.

PATERSON: Kimberly Pratt works in suicide prevention in northern Colorado. Means restriction is important, she says. But...

PRATT: Taking away means isn't just going to stop the feelings. It's not going to stop the reason why they want to die.

PATERSON: For this reason and others, some organizations that work with people impacted by gun violence expressed uncertainty about how effective the new law might be. One advocacy group, Mental Health Colorado, said in a statement that it believes that everyone should have access to the law and that saving lives should not be a partisan issue.

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PATERSON: Sheriff Steve Reams criticizes the law for not having a mental health provision. During the fundraiser, he says his office will still help people in crisis.

REAMS: But taking their guns away is not how to make a situation better when a person's in crisis. So we're going to deal with that crisis as we always have. And I'm not going to use the red flag order to do that.

PATERSON: The rhetoric around this law is part of a larger debate over how to reduce gun violence, one that is consistently revived in the aftermath of mass shootings. In Colorado, that debate is headed to court. One pro-gun group has already filed a legal challenge against the law.

For NPR News, I'm Leigh Paterson in Greeley.

PFEIFFER: This story comes to us from Guns & America, a public media reporting project focused on the role of guns in American life. Find more at gunsandamerica.org.

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