GREELEY — Greeley City Council instructed the city attorney on Tuesday to come up with language in the next few weeks that would make Greeley the first jurisdiction in Colorado to make its opposition to the newly signed “Red Flag” bill a city law preventing police from violating due process and other constitutional rights of citizens.
The gun confiscation bill is set to become state law Jan. 1 after Gov. Jared Polis made it official on April 12.
The law is just one of the many controversial laws Democrats pushed though the legislature that has caused recall committees to pop up across the state.
To date active recall attempts are in the works, but only one is in the signature gathering phase. The irony rests in that recall is against a former Greeley City Councilwoman, Rochelle Galindo. Although the tipping point for recall organizers was a law that will make sweeping changes to oil and gas production in the state, Galindo also voted in favor of the Red Flag law.
Greeley officials waited until the Governor signed the law to proceed because their own ordinance will instruct local law enforcement officials on how to deal with the new state law.
The idea was brought forth by Greeley attorney Brett Payton, who is also a council member. He said he swore an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution on several occasions, and he can not in good faith enforce the Red Flag law because it violates so many provisions of that document. Payton said it also puts police officers in situations that may endanger their own lives.
“I don’t want to wait,” Payton said, referring to what happens between now and the time the law becomes effective. “I’d like to see us take a position right now and draft an ordinance. It needs to address those constitutional issues and officer safety.”
City attorney Doug Marek told the Council he did not believe there was any rush to come up with language that would match what Payton wants, adding that he believes any ordinance the city enacts will not matter.
“I think until the City of Greeley or the Greeley Police Department are actually subject to an order, it would be difficult to establish,” Marek said. “It is clear the legislation does not envision anyone opting out of it, so it would be establishing a position that would be contrary to the legislation. My general advice in all things is that a person that is subject to a direct court order is that you analyze the court order but in general you don’t intentionally violate it.”
There was no official vote because it was a public hearing, however, all who spoke said they had problems with the bill and wanted the city to come up with something to both protect police and to not violate constitutional rights.
“I’m not comfortable that the language of the bill has covered the issues that will fix the problem, but will exacerbate the problem with a whole bunch of new issues that cannot be resolved,” Council member Robb Cassaday said. “So, I fall back on the what I think is right and that is the constitution and what our forefathers gave us for basic laws.”
Council member Stacy Suniga — who was thankful the city has until January to come up with a plan — said while she believed the bill’s authors had good intent and that she would also like the city to find a way to deal with the mental health issue so it can protect its residents from gun violence — agreed with the other members of the board of the board that the bill is problematic and that she does not support it either.
“The intention of the bill is correct, and I stand behind that thought,” Suniga said. “That said, I have found this bill to be fraught with vulnerabilities. It is a mental health issue, and I’m deeply disappointed that is not addressed. My concern is, you take away the gun, but you have someone out there still under mental duress, who now is maybe ticked off because their firearms have been taken away. ”
Suniga said she also had concerns for police officers safety because of a possible lack of information they would have to fulfill the order.
Officially known as “Extreme Risk Protection Orders,” the Red Flag law allows a wide array of people to ask a judge to temporarily remove guns from someone deemed by the judge to be an immediate risk to himself or others. The guns could then potentially be kept for up to a year and possibly cause problems on a federal level.
Supporters, including perhaps the bill’s biggest Republican advocate in Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, say it will decrease suicide and homicide rates if those considered at high risk don’t have access to firearms.
Those against, including perhaps the most vocal opponent in Republican Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, say removing guns doesn’t address the mental health issues that need to be addressed, that it only removes “one tool” from their ability to inflict harm.
They also argued it violates several Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; most importantly, Reams and others have said, is the due process clause.
Throughout the process, legislators across Colorado requested their counties officially push back against the law, and divisions of the Colorado Republican party are came out against their own members who are in support of the measure.
Opponents of the law grew quickly. To date more than half of Colorado’s counties have declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” or some version, and local towns and cities are starting to follow.
Greeley, however, decided it wanted to take its opposition to a new level, putting it into ordinance.
Mayor John Gates, with what appeared to be unanimous backing of the council, asked Marek if he could come up with something by the next meeting, which is in one week, but Marek said that was too soon.
“It’s unclear to me what that would provide,” Marek said. “Regardless of what action council would take, we’re still likely to get a direct court order to act, and it wouldn’t undo that.”
Gates said he would be fine with Marek taking a couple weeks to draft the ordinance, but that the council would rather act now than wait until January.
“I’ve studied this for hours,” Gates said. “In short, I respect the process, but I don’t like the product.”