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March 23, 2023

Bills Advance to Expand Red Flag Law, Allow Victims of Gun Violence to Seek Justice

DENVER, CO - The House Judiciary Committee today passed two commonsense gun violence prevention bills to strengthen Colorado’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law and create new avenues for gun violence victims to pursue justice.

“The data is clear; Red Flag laws are effective in saving lives and preventing gun violence,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, sponsor of SB23-170. “Colorado’s Red Flag law currently allows family members, roommates, or law enforcement officers to file an Extreme Risk Protection Order. Our bill expands the law so district attorneys, other law enforcement agents, licensed health care providers, mental health professionals, and educators can file an order to keep our communities safe and remove firearms from dangerous individuals.”

“Colorado’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law has shown to be a successful tool in preventing guns from ending up in the hands of people who pose a threat to themselves and others,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, sponsor of SB23-170. “Expanding the types of professionals who can file a petition will further reduce suicides and homicides throughout the state. Allowing more qualified individuals to file a petition for removal will increase use of this effective tool to keep our communities safe from gun violence.”

Originally passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Polis in 2019, the Zackari Parrish III Violence Prevention Act is a tool used to temporarily remove firearms from a person who a judge determines is a threat to themselves or others. Currently, a petition for removal can only be filed by a family member or a law enforcement officer. SB23-170 will expand the list of individuals eligible to file an ERPO to include district attorneys and other law enforcement officials, licensed health care providers, mental health professionals, and educators. The bill passed by a vote of 9-4.

According to the Associated Press, Colorado has one of the lowest use rates of its Red Flag law. Colorado issued only 3.3 protection orders per 100,000 adult residents through 2021, ranking the sixth lowest among 19 states that have Red Flag laws. In comparison, Florida issues 33.6 protection orders per 100,000 adult residents. Researchers have found that for every 10 to 20 protection orders, one suicide might be averted. With SB23-170 expanding eligible individuals that can file a petition for removal, more lives can be saved by gun violence.

“Current Colorado law gives gun sellers and manufacturers legal immunity that far exceeds what is reasonable and just,” said Rep. Javier Mabrey, D-Denver, sponsor of SB23-168. “By removing Colorado's extreme gun industry immunity law, gun violence victims’ will be able to pursue accountability for the pain and suffering they experienced due to the gun industry’s firearm law violations. Colorado gun violence survivors deserve their day in court.”

"I believe deeply in the idea that we are all responsible for our behavior and may be held accountable when our actions cause harm to others, " said Rep. Jennifer Parenti, D-Erie, sponsor of SB23-168. "Currently under Colorado law, the gun industry benefits from excessive legal protections that other businesses in other industries do not enjoy.  This legislation ensures that Coloradans who are harmed by any irresponsible or dangerous business practice may seek redress in our state courts and will encourage actors in the industry to follow the laws that keep us safe."

Right now, gun sellers and manufacturers enjoy broad protections under federal law from most types of civil lawsuits - and Colorado law goes even further by including a punitive provision that makes victims of gun violence who sue the gun industry pay the company’s legal fees in dismissed cases. SB23-168 would remove Colorado’s overly-broad immunity protections for gun sellers and manufacturers and allow legitimate lawsuits against the gun industry to move forward. The bill passed by a vote of 9-4.

After their daughter was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips sued four online retailers that irresponsibly sold magazines, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and body armor to the murderer. Under Colorado’s immunity law, they were forced to pay around $200,000 in legal fees to bulk ammunition sellers. They ended up selling their house and declared bankruptcy.

Civil liability plays an important role in promoting consumer safety, and lawsuits can help incentivize industries to take reasonable steps to prevent their products or business practices from causing foreseeable risks to human life and wellbeing. 

Removing Colorado’s gun industry shielded liability will allow survivors like the Phillips and countless others to seek appropriate justice and fair remedies via civil actions, and will give survivors the legal opportunity to hold gun sellers and manufacturers accountable for their actions.

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