The suspect in Saturday’s mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs had a previous violent incident, leaving one state politician to question whether the state’s “red flag” laws had been properly implemented.
Colorado law allows courts, under some circumstances, to confiscate a person’s guns if the person is deemed to be a risk to their safety or that of others. The shooting suspect, Aderson Lee Aldrich, had a notable run-in with police last year. According to a bulletin released by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, in June 2021, police confronted Aldrich at a home in El Paso County. Aldrich’s mother told police that her son was threatening her with a “homemade bomb, multiple guns and ammunition” and that she did not 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, but Aldrich was arrested and charged with criminal threatening and first-degree kidnapping, according to the news release. The case was eventually dismissed.
However, Aldrich is the suspected gunman in a shooting Saturday night. At least five people were killed and dozens wounded when a gunman carrying a long rifle — authorities have not released further details about the weapon — opened fire at the Colorado Spring nightclub. The shooting happened the night before the country’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Local officials have indicated they suspect the shooting is a “hate attack.”
That earlier incident has raised questions about why law enforcement did not invoke existing red flag laws to disarm Aldrich. Sen. John Hickelooper, a Colorado Democrat, called the failure to enforce red flag laws in the case a “failure by any measure,” in an appearance Tuesday on CNN.
“We’re seeing the LGBT community pay with their lives,” Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper served as the state’s governor from 2011 to 2019. After the 2012 killing of 12 people by a gunman at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Hickenlooper signed a bill that the Colorado Springs shooting passed on a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” background check. in private and online firearms sales, as well as restricting the maximum size of ammunition magazines. His successor Jared Polis, the first openly gay man ever elected US governor, signed the states’ red flag law, which took effect on January 1, 2020.
Colorado’s red flag law allows “a family or household member or law enforcement officer to apply to the court for a Temporary Extreme Risk Protective Order (EPRO).” If granted, the ERPO “prohibits the defendant from possessing, controlling, purchasing or receiving a firearm” for up to one year with the possibility of the order being extended if the court considers that the risk continues.
But not everyone in the state agrees with the gun safety law. El Paso County, Colorado, home to the municipality of Colorado Springs, was one of many counties in the state to declare 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 responded to a red flag law that the state legislature of Colorado was considering at the time.
The resolution passed by El Paso County demanded that the state legislature “cease and desist from any other action that restricts the Second Amendment rights of citizens” and pledged to “not appropriate funds, resources, employees or agencies to initiate unconstitutional forfeitures in unincorporated El Paso County.”.
While the commission does not have the authority to set policies for incorporated municipalities in the county, it did have law enforcement support that would generally be critical to enforcing the bill. The resolution promised to work “in coordination with the El Paso County Sheriff […] to actively resist the bill in its current and subsequent forms, including leading the charge in legal action if warranted, to protect the Second Amendment rights of all legal gun owners in the state, and not only in El Paso County.”
County Sheriff Bill Elder threatened to sue the state if the law went into effect and vowed that while they would comply with court orders, his department would not seek extreme risk protection orders “unless there were exigent circumstances” and “probable cause” of an established crime. The sheriff indicated that his department would rely on families or household members to file protective orders and that his department would not search for weapons “absent probable cause and a signed search warrant.”
It’s unclear whether red flag laws could have been used to prevent Aldrich from having guns, as many details remain unknown. But the effects of local leaders’ opposition to the enforcement of red flag laws are evident in the implementation of the bill. Despite having some of the highest rates of gun ownership in the country, an analysis conducted in September by the Associated Press found that over two years Colorado had some of the lowest use of red flag laws in the nation. Among the 37 countries that are considered “sanctuary,” only 45 extradition orders were issued during the period under review. El Paso County requested 13 temporary firearm recalls between 2020 and 2021.
Saturday’s shooting took place in a climate of heightened hostility and violence against LGBTQ+ people fueled by right-wing reactionaries. Last week, Boston Children’s Hospital, which houses a multi-specialty gender services program, was subjected to its third bomb threat of the year. Colorado has experienced a number of high-profile mass shootings in recent years, including last year’s mass shooting at a Boulder supermarket that left 10 dead, and the 2012 Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead spectators
“While Americans are dying,” says Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts in a statement to rolling rock“some lawless sheriffs are more interested in placating extreme gun groups than implementing red flag laws that save lives.”