In Colorado, courts can temporarily seize firearms from individuals deemed to be a risk to themselves or others under the state’s “red flag” law.
The state legislature passed the law in 2019, with supporters calling it a key tool to prevent gun violence. Colorado has continued to fall victim to mass shootings in the years since the law took effect — from the Boulder King Soopers attack that killed 10 in March 2021, to the shooting spree across Denver and Lakewood that killed five in December 2021, to the Colorado Springs Club Q shooting that killed five on Saturday.
In all three of these mass shootings, the suspected shooters had previous contact with police or had been brought to the attention of local law enforcement beforehand, but no one, it appears, pursued the red flag law.
What is Colorado’s red flag law?
The red flag law, also known as House Bill 19-1177, passed the state legislature in April 2019 and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
The law allows family members, household members or law enforcement officers to petition the court for a temporary Extreme Risk Protection Order against a person who poses an imminent threat to themselves or others "by having in his or her custody or control a firearm or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm."
If the order is granted, law enforcement is required to remove firearms and/or concealed-carry permits from the person and to hold the weapons for up to 14 days.
A second hearing must be held within the 14 days to determine if the person still presents a significant risk to themselves or others. If they do, the court can extend the protection order and continue holding the weapons for up to 364 days. A person who files a false report can be subject to criminal prosecution.
Once the protection order expires, the weapons must be returned within three days.
The law was named the “Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act” after a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed in 2017 — by a man with a known history of mental health issues and threats against law enforcement — in an ambush that also wounded six others.
When has the red flag law been used?
Since the law was implemented nearly three years ago, hundreds of red flag petitions have been filed in Colorado, although its implementation appears uneven, varying by jurisdiction.
During the law’s first year in effect, 85% of year-long protection orders granted by judges were filed by law enforcement and most requests came from situations where someone threatened suicide, intimate partner violence and mass shootings, according to an analysis released by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office at the time.
Colorado has one of the lowest use rates of its red flag law, according to an Associated Press analysis from September. Colorado issued only 3.3 protection orders per 100,000 adult residents through 2021, ranking the sixth lowest among 19 states that have red flag laws. In comparison, the highest use rate was in Florida with 33.6 protection orders per 100,000 adult residents.
In Colorado, 37 counties also formally opposed the red flag law, declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” While petitions for protection orders have since been filed in at least 20 of those sanctuary counties, they’ve issued a fifth fewer orders per resident than non-sanctuary counties, the Associated Press reported.
El Paso County — where Saturday’s mass shooting at Club Q took place — is one of those sanctuary counties. County Sheriff Bill Elder at one point threatened to sue the state if the red flag statute became law and has said his office would not petition for protection orders except under special circumstances.
Could the red flag law have stopped the Club Q shooting?
It is unclear whether the red flag law could have prevented Saturday’s mass shooting.
The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, is believed to have allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb, several weapons and ammunition in June 2021 — a year and a half before the attack on Club Q.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office arrested a man with the same name and matching age in June 2021 in connection to the bomb threat in southeast Colorado Springs, according to an earlier report by the sheriff's office. No formal charges were pursued in the case, which has since been sealed. The sheriff's office said the man was accused of two counts of felony menacing and three counts of first-degree kidnapping.
Law enforcement officials would not confirm that 22-year-old Aldrich was the same man arrested in 2021, however Howard Black, spokesman for District Attorney's Office, said last year's incident will be part of the investigation of Saturday's mass shooting.
Since this bomb threat incident happened over a year ago, a protection order, if issued at the time, would have expired months ago at the latest.