Colorado Springs shooter had allegedly threatened his mother with a bomb. Why could he still get a gun?
Anderson Lee Aldrich lived in a second amendment sanctuary, and neither police nor family triggered the state’s red flag law
A year and a half before Anderson Lee Aldrich was arrested as a suspect in a Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting that left five people dead, he allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb, forcing neighbors in surrounding homes to evacuate while the bomb squad and crisis negotiators talked him into surrendering.
Despite that incident, there is no public record that prosecutors sought any felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich, or that police or relatives tried to trigger Colorado’s red flag law that would have allowed authorities to seize the weapons and ammo the man’s mother says he had with him.
In 2019, Colorado’s governor Jared Polis signed the state’s Violence Prevention Act or red flag bill. The legislation was named after Zackari Parrish, a sheriff’s deputy for Douglas county – about 50 miles from El Paso county where Colorado Springs is located – who was shot and killed while responding to a mental health call. Before the deputy’s death two versions of the red flag bill failed in committee. The version that did pass was met with fierce opposition from the county where public records indicate Aldrich lived.
El Paso county became one of the first counties in the state to declare itself a “second amendment sanctuary” in protest of gun control laws. The county passed a Second Amendment Preservation Resolution in March 2019, with the county board of commissioners arguing that the red flag bill did not address mental health issues and imposed on people’s gun rights.
“I’m saddened that, as a local elected official, I’m even faced with a resolution to affirm a right that was guaranteed in our constitution,” Commissioner Cami Bremer told the Gazette newspaper in 2019. “I honestly believe that this bill was crafted by well-meaning people, but that does not make it a good bill.”
The county’s self-designation as a second amendment sanctuary does not exempt residents from state gun restrictions like background checks. Rather, it indicates the county’s decision to “actively resist” the bill by refusing to put any money, staffing or law enforcement power behind local implementation of the red flag bill. More than half of Colorado’s 64 counties have also declared themselves second amendment sanctuaries, according to KUSA, Denver’s NBC affiliate.
Though these resolutions are mainly seen as political rhetoric and do not legally disallow law enforcement from petitioning courts to have someone’s guns removed, they can have a potential “chilling effect” on local police who may believe their local community do not support the use of extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), according to Dr Christopher Knoepke, an assistant professor in the University of Colorado’s Department of Medicine.
“[These resolutions] create a mental stumbling block where someone might think ‘oh, we can’t do that here’ because the community doesn’t support it,” Knoepke said of the local implementation of red flag laws. “Law enforcement may think that they live in a place where [ERPO petitions] wouldn’t adhere to community norms and standards and I think there’s some of that at play here.”
“In this county you had a board that passed a second amendment sanctuary city ordinance where everyone came out and said that they won’t take advantage of the lifesaving tool that has prevented shootings and suicides in other communities,” echoed Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“What implementation looks like in a state is going to vary, but inarguably one of the key components is educating law enforcement officers (LEOs) on how and when to use them.”
An Associated Press analysis found Colorado has one of the lowest rates of red flag usage despite widespread gun ownership and several high-profile mass shootings. Courts issued 151 gun surrender orders from when the law took effect in April 2019 through 2021, equalling to about three surrender orders for every 100,000 adults in the state.
El Paso county, with a population of 730,000, had 13 temporary firearm removals through the end of last year, four of which turned into longer ones of at least six months, the Associated Press reported.
It remains unclear if El Paso’s status is the reason nobody petitioned for a protection order and ERPO against Aldrich after the 2021 bomb threat.
The state has the sixth highest suicide death rate in the nation, according to mortality statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorado has also been home to some of the nation’s most high-profile mass shootings including one at Columbine high school in April 1999, another at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, in July 2012 and in March 2021, 10 people were shot to death at a grocery store in Boulder.
“The trauma that these events leave has a long tail,” Knoepke, a Colorado Springs native, said.“Our minds and bodies aren’t meant to understand that horrible things have happened [in Colorado] but we are forced to understand and accept it.”
Published at Tue, 22 Nov 2022 16:50:00 +0000