Gun owners edgy over civil commitment bill

DENVER — The Colorado House gave final approval to a bill Monday that some gun owners fear will lead them to be declared mentally unstable to possess a firearm.

Responding to numerous emails and a “legislative alert” from the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Association, several state lawmakers voted against a bill that changes some definitions in the state’s civil commitment statutes.

Under those laws, mental health professionals can hold potentially dangerous patients for up to 72 hours and prescribe additional treatment beyond that time.

The bill more clearly defines what “gravely disabled” means when mental health professionals try to determine who poses a threat to themselves and others and holds them to ensure they get proper treatment.

It stems from a civil commitment task force that was created last year in response to the shooting deaths at an Aurora theater in 2012.

But gun owners worry that once someone is labeled mentally ill, they lose their right to own or possess a firearm.

Several posted messages on the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Facebook page in response to its “alert,” saying the bill is the first step toward giving “them” the right “to go around to homes and confiscate legal guns.”

As a result, several Republican House members lined up to oppose the measure when it was up for a final vote on Monday.

“I’m very concerned about people’s civil liberties,” said Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance.

“This bill could actually have an opposite effect for people who may need to seek help, especially veterans or other folks that actually may have a need for treatment,” added Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono.

“I think that a lot of stakeholders weren’t included, including law enforcement ... and Second Amendment community,” said Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton. “We want to consult with all communities out there, especially after we had two-and-a-half recalls this last cycle.”

The “two-and-a-half recalls” refers to the recalls of Senate President John Morse and state Sen. Angela Giron and the resignation of state Sen. Evie Hudak, who would have otherwise faced a recall election.

The bill passed 43-22, with 20 Republicans and two Democrats opposing it.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said opponents’ fears were groundless.

“I, like you, received a large number of emails about House Bill 1386 over the weekend, most of which simply did not understand the bill,” Gardner said. “This bill has nothing in it about guns. If we fail to get the help to those who need it and they harm themselves or they harm a family member, we’ve done them no service by not putting them on a 72-hour hold.”

The bill heads to the Senate for more debate.


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