The suspect in Saturday’s mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs followed an earlier violent incident that left a state politician questioning whether the state’s “red flag” laws had been properly implemented.
Colorado law allows courts to confiscate guns from an individual under certain circumstances if the individual is considered a safety risk to themselves or others. The shooting suspect, Aderson Lee Aldrich, had a notable encounter with police last year. Police got into a standoff with Aldrich at an El Paso County home in June 2021, according to a bulletin released by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Aldrich’s mother told police her son threatened her with a “homemade bomb, multiple guns and ammunition” and that she didn’t know where he was. The report prompted law enforcement to evacuate homes in the area while they located and negotiated with Aldrich. No explosives were identified, according to the Bulletin, but Aldrich was arrested and charged with first-degree felony crime and kidnapping. The case was eventually dropped.
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Still, Aldrich is the suspected shooter in a shooting late Saturday night. At least five people were killed and dozens injured when a gunman with a long rifle — authorities have not released details of the weapon — opened fire at the Colorado Spring nightclub. The shooting happened the night before the nation’s annual Transgender Remembrance Day. Local officials have said they suspect the shooting to be a “hate attack”.
That earlier incident has raised questions as to why law enforcement didn’t invoke existing red flags to disarm Aldrich. Senator John Hickelooper, a Colorado Democrat, called the lack of enforcement of red-flag laws in the case a “failure in every respect” in an appearance on CNN Tuesday.
“We see the LGBT community paying with their lives,” Hickenlooper said.
The Colorado Springs shooting took place at a Second Amendment Sanctuary that conducted background checks on private and online firearm sales and restricted the maximum size of ammunition magazines. His successor, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man ever elected governor of the United States, signed the law with the state’s red flag, which went into effect on January 1, 2020.
Colorado’s red flag law allows “a family member or household member or a law enforcement officer to petition the court for a temporary extreme risk protection order (EPRO).” If granted, the ERPO “prohibits the defendant from possessing, controlling, purchasing or obtaining a firearm for up to one year,” with the option for the order to be renewed if the court finds continued risk.
But not everyone in the state is on board with the gun safety law. El Paso County, Colorado, where the community of Colorado Springs is located, was one of a number of counties in the state that proclaimed themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.” The term refers to jurisdictions that have threatened not to enforce local gun safety laws, arguing that they are unconstitutional. El Paso County’s 2019 declaration that it was a Second Amendment Preservation County came as the Colorado state legislature was in response to a red flag law the Colorado state legislature was in at the time considered.
The resolution, passed by El Paso County, called on lawmakers to “cease and refrain from any further action that restricts the rights of Second Amendment citizens” and vowed “not to provide any funds, resources, personnel or authorities to investigate unconstitutional seizures in the… to initiate unincorporated El Paso County.”
Although the commission does not have the power to set guidelines for incorporated communities within the county, it has had the support of law enforcement agencies, which broadly would play a role in enforcing the bill. The resolution promised to “work in coordination with the El Paso County Sheriff […] To actively oppose the law as it exists and hereafter, including pursuing the prosecution in court when warranted to protect the Second Amendment rights of all lawful gun owners in the state and not just in El Paso County.
County Sheriff Bill Elder threatened to sue the state if the law goes into effect, promising that while his department would comply with court orders, his department would not seek extreme risk orders “unless it lies.” urgent circumstances” and “probable cause” for a crime. The sheriff stated that his department would rely on families or household members to file protective orders and that his department would not search for weapons “without a probable cause and a signed search warrant.”
It’s unclear if the Red Flag laws could be used to stop Aldrich from owning guns, as many details remain unknown. But the impact of local leaders’ resistance to the implementation of red-flagged laws is evident in the implementation of the bill. Although Colorado has some of the highest rates of gun ownership in the country, an analysis conducted by the Associated Press in September found that Colorado had the lowest use of red-flag laws nationwide over a two-year period. Among the 37 countries that consider themselves “sanctuaries,” only 45 extradition orders were issued during the period. El Paso County requested 13 temporary firearm removals between 2020 and 2021.
Saturday’s shooting took place in a climate of heightened hostility and violence against LGBTQ+ people, driven by right-wing reactionaries. Just last week, Boston Children’s Hospital, which houses a Gender Multispecialty Service program, faced its third bomb threat of the year. Colorado has seen a string of high-profile mass shootings in recent years, including last year’s mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder that killed 10 people and the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting that killed 12 moviegoers.
“While Americans are dying,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, in a statement Rolling Stone“Some outlaw sheriffs are more interested in placating extreme gun groups than implementing life-saving warning signals.”
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