SAGUACHE— Although no notice appeared on the Saguache Board of County Commissioners’ agenda, posted on the county website, a group opposing the enforcement of the Red Flag legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Polis voiced strong sentiments against the bill Tuesday.
The group addressed commissioners during the public comment period of their twice-monthly regular meeting. While Saguache County agendas are usually non-specific, other notable issues have been listed as such under the public comment period section to allow those wishing to hear the arguments or contribute to the comments to attend.
The controversial Red Flag law would allow anyone who has ever been close to an individual — friends, family members, those in an intimate relationship or roommates, for example — to go before a judge and request an individual’s firearms be confiscated if they feel s/he is a danger to society or him or herself. The law reads that the confiscation would last for 364 days before the accused could petition the court to have the guns returned.
Opponents are concerned that the law places a judge in the position of mental health professionals trained to determine whether a true mental condition exists. They believe a mental health referral and summons to court is required to avoid violating due process rights.
Sheriff Dan Warwick, who attended the meeting said the room was packed, with people lining the walls and spilling out into the courthouse lobby. The majority of those attending were opposed to the legislation. Many spoke out against the law, asking commissioners to make the county a “sanctuary county” where the law would not be enforced, he reported.
Only one spoke in favor of the law, Warwick said, although there may have been others in the room who favored it but did not speak up.
Commissioners told Warwick they were waiting for him to approach them about becoming a sanctuary county, but Warwick said he does not like the term “sanctuary” because today it has negative connotations and did not believe the law would be passed. “Sanctuary means something different now; it doesn’t have the same meaning as before,” he said. “A sanctuary is a place of peace.”
Webster’s Seventh Collegiate Dictionary’s second definition (b) for “sanctuary” is the lesser known “Immunity from law by entering…a sacred and inviolable asylum.” Previously the word applied mainly to churches which often were used as places of refuge from legal prosecution. If commissioners choose to exempt the county from enforcing the law, they should label it instead as a “constitutional” exemption or identify it in some other way, Warwick added.
He also pointed out that while the new law does appear to violate the second and fourth amendments, the best defense against it is the 14th Amendment, Section 1, which reads:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Warwick believes the state wrongly passed the legislation based on this amendment, “and I hope commissioners understand that,” he said. The law faces numerous legal challenges and legal experts say it will eventually go before the U.S. Supreme Court for clarification.
Commissioners and county officials still need to find the answers, then sit down to figure out how mental health needs should be addressed in the county, Warwick emphasized.
Commissioners declined to make a decision on passage of any sanctuary county law this week. But in an article in last week’s issue of the Center Post-Dispatch, Warwick said he can’t enforce the law until the question of its constitutionality is resolved.