Despite marked gains again among Colorado Democrats empowered to run the Legislature and the state, the chances for meaningful gun control, such as banning assault-style weapons and preventing people from hoarding guns and ammunition, are slim.
One responsibility, however, state lawmakers cannot overlook next month is a review of Colorado’s nascent so-called Red Flag Law.
For the past few years, Colorado’s Extreme Risk Protection Order has allowed police and family members to temporarily confiscate guns from gun-owners who clearly and provably are so distraught, mentally ill or unstable that being armed makes them a deadly risk to themselves or others.
It’s nearly certain that the law failed in the case of Club Q mass-shooting suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich.
State attorney officials and the state Legislature owe the public a transparent and accountable explanation for how and why this critical law failed to keep Aldrich from arming himself with assault weapons and firing into a crowd of patrons in the Colorado Springs club.
While there could be many reasons, either a failure in the law, or malfeasance among law enforcement in Colorado Springs, or both, prevented Aldrich from being “flagged” against access to firearms after he stunningly held police at bay with a bomb-threat and shooting standoff a little more than a year before the mass shooting.
In June last year, Aldrich terrorized his grandparents in Colorado Srpings as he preprared for a standoff with police, records and witnesses reveal.
“Anderson Lee Aldrich loaded bullets into a Glock pistol and chugged vodka, ominously warning frightened grandparents not to stand in the way of an elaborate plan to stockpile guns, ammo, body armor and a homemade bomb to become “the next mass killer,”’ according to an Associated Press story Wednesday. “You guys die today and, I’m taking you with me,” they quoted Aldrich as saying. “I’m loaded and ready.”
The same young man somehow acquired a small arsenal of tactical body armor, military style weapons and plenty of ammo to walk into Club Q last month and kill 5 people while wounding another 17. If not for the heroic action of two people who risked their lives to tackle and stop Aldrich, there’s little doubt the carnage would have been even worse.
Colorado Springs sheriff officials and the district attorney have said virtually nothing about how a man that clearly committed numerous crimes was never adjudicated and then was able to amass enough weaponry to inflict the carnage he clearly did.
A logical explanation looks grim for Colorado Springs political and law enforcement leaders who have been not just critical of the state’s Red Flag law, but who have actively and foolishly defied it.
News investigations into Aldrich and the shooting reveal that neither Aldrich’s family nor police attempted to invoke the red flag law to ensure Aldrich had no access to weapons.
El Paso County police and political officials consider the red-flag law anathema to their interpretation of the Second Amendment.
County Republican officials brag about the county being a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” opposing the red-flag law and other common sense measures that seek to at least keep guns out of the hands of clearly and imminently dangerous people, like Aldrich.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder “has previously said he would only remove guns on orders from family members, refusing to go to court himself to get permission except under “exigent circumstances,” according to an AP story this week. “We’re not going to be taking personal property away from people without due process,” Elder said as the law neared passage in 2019.
While it’s not possible to say that Aldrich might not have found a way around having his guns confiscated, it’s clear that he absolutely should have been stripped of his weapons, given his violent and disturbing behavior in June 2021.
El Paso County officials have no credibility to investigate themselves in the matter. The state and state attorney general must track the last year and half back and determine whether police or prosecutors thwarted the intent of the law deliberately or through malfeasance, missing an opportunity to prevent the Club Q catastrophe in November.
Just as importantly, state lawmakers need to review the law to ensure that other unwitting or unwilling family members or police don’t allow other clearly dangerous people to harbor guns and ammunition.
For the sake of the public, the next General Assembly should determine how best to strengthen the emergency protection order law to make it easier to disarm dangerous gunmen and to force equally dangerous police, prosecutors and activists from undermining a law that could have completed prevented a clearly preventable mass shooting and calamity.