MASS SHOOTINGSIn Colorado Springs, Local Officials Resisted the State’s Red Flag Law

By Chip Brownlee

Published 23 November 2022

El Paso County, the site of the mass shooting at Club Q, is one of at least 37 Colorado counties that have declared themselves a “Second Amendment sanctuary” and openly defied the state’s gun laws.

The Colorado Springs shooting, in which a gunman killed five people and wounded more than a dozen at a queer nightclub on November 19, has already been framed as a failure of red flag laws, policies designed to allow law enforcement to disarm people considered a clear risk to themselves or others.

But in this case, it appears a red flag order could have been used against the suspect — and local officials may have chosen not to.

Of 64 counties in the state, El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, is one of at least 37 counties that have declared themselves a “Second Amendment sanctuary” and openly defied the state’s gun laws. El Paso County’s commissioners did so in response to the state’s proposed red flag law in 2019.

“We’re not going to pursue these on our own,” El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder said as the law was being debated in the state Legislature, “meaning the Sheriff’s Office is not going to run over and try to get a court order.” Elder has said that the Sheriff’s Office would enforce court orders, but that it wouldn’t pursue petitions on its own, except in some extreme circumstances.

Data suggests that Elder has been true to his word. In Colorado, red flag petitions can be filed by law enforcement, or a family or household member. An analysis of court records by 9News found that, between January 2020, when the law went into effect, and November 2021, just 39 risk protection order petitions were filed in El Paso County, the most populous county in the state, with more than 737,000 residents. Only eight of those petitions — or 21 percent — were granted.

None of the approved petitions were filed by law enforcement, the 9News analysis shows. Unlike most counties in the state, they were all initiated by family and household members.

“Oftentimes, law enforcement are the people who are coming into contact with individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others,” said Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “If they’re not using them, they’re going to be less effective.”