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Colorado Red Flag Bill Heads To Governor’s Desk, But Sheriff’s Concerns Linger Over Gun Confiscation

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Sheriff Steve Reams, who serves a Colorado county opposed to gun legislation, takes a firm stance against what he sees as an unconstitutional new law. READ MORE

Sheriff Steve Reams
Sheriff Steve Reams.

SOURCE: Fort Collins Coloradoan, by Nick Coltrain; CNN, by Bryan Howard, photo by Ken Tillis

Colorado houses controlled by Democrats, passed a new red flag bill HB19- 1177. This bill will allow the state government to take away guns from anyone they want for no legal reasons. However, one Colorado Sheriff is standing up to these tyrannical politicians claiming he will not enforce the new law and is willing to go to jail over it.

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams said, “It’s a matter of doing what’s right.” He has also said, “If you pass an unconstitutional law, our oaths as commissioners or myself as the sheriff — we’re going to follow our constitutional oath first. And we’ll do that balancing act on our own.”

Reams stated on Monday, “It’s unlike any other red flag bill that has been introduced anywhere in the United States. The issue is the person who is having their guns taken away isn’t aware of this hearing taking place. They find out about the hearing after the fact.”

Reams has said, “I’m not bluffing,” when he said he will not enforce the bill.

According to CNN, all 64 counties in Colorado oppose the anti second amendment law that will be enforced onto them, and about half of those have passed resolutions opposing the bill, symbolically declaring their counties “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.” That list includes Weld County, Reams jurisdiction.

Reams could potentially face jail if a judge ordered his department to seize a person’s firearms; if Reams refused, he could face contempt of court charges.

Reams outlined concerns similar to those raised by Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith and the Larimer County Commissioners in the lead up to the bill’s passage: It violates due process and other Constitutional rights, it takes away people’s home defense, it’s logistically difficult for sheriff’s offices that aren’t equipped to keep and return the guns, and it addresses a symptom of a mental health crises, instead of a person’s overall mental health.

“If they’re such a significant risk to themselves that they shouldn’t have a gun, my feeling is the better focus is dealing with the person,” Reams said. “So let’s look at a mental health hold or something along those lines.”

He called for instead reducing the requirements to place someone in a mental health hold, and increasing the requirements for freeing that person. State statute regarding mental health holds currently requires the person to represent an imminent danger to their self or others; Reams would like it to be closer to the lower threshold of a significant threat included in the red flag bill.

“The thought process of denying someone, or taking that object away and it being a way to make them safe, it misses the root problem,” Reams said. “Mental health is where we should be focused, and we just keep passing that buck along, keep kicking that can along, and that’s where I want to see that investment go.”

To be clear, Sheriff Reams doesn’t want to go to jail. He’d much rather the issues he sees with the bill be sussed out and the attention be shifted to helping those in mental health crises.

“(Going to jail is) the absolute last thing I’d like to do,” Reams said in an interview with the Coloradoan following a CNN story headlined “This Colorado sheriff is willing to go to jail rather than enforce a proposed gun law.” See it HERE 

“I’d much rather see this get worked out in the courts and dealt with in the courts before it ever comes to that point,” Reams told the Coloradoan. “But if and when the time comes, and this issue hasn’t been worked out in the courts, then, yeah, this is the last choice that I have.”

The bill allows family, members of the household or law enforcement to petition a court to have an individual’s guns seized or surrendered. A similar bill was stifled by the Republican-controlled Senate last year. The new Democratic legislature was able to move it through, and Gov. Polis, also a Democrat, has pledged to sign the measure into law.

“This bill will give law enforcement and families the tools that they need to stop tragedies from constantly happening and save lives,” said first-term Rep. Tom Sullivan, who sponsored the bill with House Majority Leader Alec Garnett.

Reams said he saw the conflict in enforcing state law versus respecting people’s Constitutional rights — and not just the headline-grabbing right to bear arms. He cited concerns with unlawful search and seizure, due process and equal protections clauses as well.

“It turns the Fourth, the Fifth, and the 14th amendment on their heads,” he said. “It does things so backwards from what we understand about due process. Anyone who looks at this with an honest eye has to have concerns. The Second Amendment is the easy thing to say is under attack, and that’s a portion of it, but that’s not the main portion. But it doesn’t resonate in headlines to say we’re defending the 14th Amendment.”

Several law enforcement officials testified for the bill, named after Zackari Parrish, a 29-year old sheriff’s deputy in Douglas County. The husband and father was shot and killed in a New Year’s Eve 2017 shooting by a man who had exhibited increasingly erratic behavior.

State Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, has said sheriffs who don’t want to enforce the measure should resign. Gov. Polis said on March 26 that he believes sheriffs are committed to enforcing laws approved at the Capitol. Polis also said sheriffs have discretion to decide which issues to focus on.

Reams said he wouldn’t resign in protest over the bill because he was elected to do the job of sheriff. Most of the constituent feedback he’s heard has been positive, he said.

“If I were to walk away in protest, or resign in protest, I’d be saying I’m not in it for the fight,” Reams said.

The red flag bill is the first major gun legislation to make its way through both Colorado legislative chambers since 2013, when lawmakers passed universal background checks and banned large-capacity ammunition magazines after the mass shootings in Aurora and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Thirteen other states have passed similar legislation. Florida passed its version after the 2018 Parkland school massacre.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.