COLORADO SPRINGS—Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser came to The Pinery at the Hill in Colorado Springs Tuesday afternoon for a community round table hosted by the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Springs Business Journal, the Apartment Association of Southern Colorado and Firma IT Solutions.
A crowd of about 250 people came to hear Weiser speak and answer questions from host Bryan Grossman, Editor in Chief of the Colorado Springs Independent as well as questions submitted by audience members.
Invoking the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, Weiser said the vision for his office is to “advance the rule of law, to protect our democracy and promote justice for all.”
Weiser noted that that he is participating in 16 lawsuits against the Trump administration, including a defense of the federal Affordable Care Act. Weiser didn’t weigh in on the constitutional questions of that lawsuit, but rather as a matter of what he considers right and wrong. “Arguing that the Affordable Care Act should be stricken in its entirety leaving 700,000 Coloradans without protection who have pre-existing conditions…Taking away health care from 400,000 who benefit from Medicaid expansion. That’s wrong and I’ll fight it all the way to the Supreme Court,” he said.
On the other hand, of the challenge to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) claiming that it is unconstitutional because it deprives legislators of their power to impose taxes without the approval of the citizenry, Weiser said, “Whether people like it or not, TABOR is the law in Colorado, which means it’s my job to defend that law.”
“It’s being challenged as unconstitutional on what is a novel theory that would require the Supreme Court to overturn its precedent.” he continued. “Our job is to defend that law.”
Addressing the issue of police use of force, a sensitive issue in Colorado Springs right now due to five police-involved shootings in the city this year, Weiser said, “We need to do better. My commitment is to make sure we do what we can to help develop the [police] culture and the [use of force] toolkit so that we don’t escalate situations where it’s not necessary.” Weiser’s authority is over police standards and training.
Several members of the audience pressed Weiser about starting an independent investigation into the August 3 killing of De’von Bailey, a 19-year-old suspect in an armed robbery who was shot by Colorado Springs police officers as he turned to run from the officers, who were preparing to pat him down for weapons. Officers said they fired when they saw him reach for his waistband and later found a gun inside his shorts.
Weiser told the audience that his authority as Attorney General does not extend to initiating independent investigations of police shootings, and that Colorado law already requires shootings to be investigated by another agency, in this case the El Paso County Sheriffs Department.
Only the Governor has the authority to order him to appoint a special prosecutor in such situations, says Weiser. Governor Polis has not shown any indication so far that he is going to do so. Polis did call for an independent investigation in the shooting, but didn’t specify who should conduct it.
Speaking about Colorado’s new Extreme Risk Protection Order (Red Flag) law, Weiser said, “I believe this law will save lives. It will help us if someone is significant a risk to themselves or others. I believe this will be more about suicides than homicides. We can remove the weapons to save lives.”
Responding to the argument that the law is ineffective at keeping weapons out of the hands of dangerous persons Weiser said, “We’ve run the numbers based on Indiana and California.”
“In Colorado I don’t know that we’re going to have more than one hundred and fifty-ish red flag orders a year,” Weiser continued. “Of those orders, every ten or so is going to save a life.”
Arguing against the claim that the law violates constitutional rights of gun owners, Weiser said, “I am convinced this law is constitutional. It respects Colorado’s commitment to have weapons for self defense, but as Justice Scalia said in the Heller case, if you are mentally ill, if you’re a felon, or if you’re a danger to society, the Second Amendment is not absolute. We will win on that ground.”
“That woman who came here from Florida, she hadn’t committed a crime. How are we to get her weapons away? That’s exactly what this red flag bill is for,” he continued.
Sol Pais, 18, flew to Denver from Miami April 15 and legally bought a pump-action shotgun at a local gun store. FBI Special Agent in Charge Dean Phillips said at the time Pais was a credible threat. “She has made concerning comments in the past,” he said. “She has expressed an infatuation with Columbine.”
Pais was found dead of a self-inflicted wound about 40 miles west of Denver April 17, three days before the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. According to the Clear Creek County Coroner, Pais likely killed herself the day of her arrival, before the FBI and local authorities triggered a massive manhunt and area-wide school lockdowns.
Colorado statutes give police and mental health professionals the authority to detain someone on a 72 hour mental health evaluation hold if they are a danger to self or others and remove the person from all potential weapons, not just firearms, as well as removing them from proximity to those who might be at risk. Those laws have been on the books for more than 50 years.
On gun control Weiser said, “How can we honor the constitutional right to bear arms in self defense as well as protecting people from what is, honestly, a public health challenge of our time, which is gun violence.”
Mentioning Colorado’s ban on standard capacity firearms magazines, “The Constitution protects self defense,” Weiser said. “I think 15 rounds is enough to defend yourself.”
Editor’s Note: Investigative Reporter Scott Weiser and Attorney General Phil Weiser are not related.
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