Colorado Springs nightclub mass shooter dodged 'red flag' law aimed at preventing massacres

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Colorado gun control advocates were thrilled in 2019 when the Centennial State joined 18 other U.S. states to pass a "red flag" bill that allowed law enforcement officers to seize the guns of potentially violent gun owners, and they said the law might have prevented the latest mass shooting in Colorado Springs, the state's second largest city.

Days after the fatal attack that killed five people and wounded more than a dozen at a nightclub, it appeared that a red flag order, also known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order, could have been used against the suspect and local officials may have chosen not to.

Of the state's 64 counties, El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, is one of at least 37 counties that have declared themselves a "Second Amendment Sanctuary" and openly defied the state's gun laws. El Paso County's commissioners did so in response to the state's proposed red flag law in 2019.

"Sheriffs change this crisis from IF to WHEN. Not sure what is meant by saying you 'stand with those impacted.' You are part of the problem." Colorado state Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and personally pushed the state's red flag law to its 18-17 passage, criticized the local authority on his official twitter page on Wednesday.

"We need heroes beforehand -- parents, co-workers, friends who are seeing someone go down this path," Sullivan said, noting that in the case of the Club Q shooting, the suspect, who was slated to appear in court Wednesday, allegedly threatened in June 2021 to detonate a bomb and harm his mother with "multiple weapons."

"This should have alerted them, put him on their radar," and the 2021 incident should have "red flagged" the suspect, he said.

But it didn't, and during the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving, an entire community south of Denver is devastated, and mourning a possibly preventable massacre.

The suspect, 22-year-old Anderson Aldrich, who has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated "hate" crime, walked into the door of the nightclub in Colorado Springs Saturday night and opened fire on the crowd.

Within seconds, Aldrich was tackled and subdued by two club patrons including Richard Fierro, a former Army major who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was at the nightclub celebrating a birthday with his wife and daughter. His daughter's boyfriend, Vance, was also there but did not survive, police said.

Investigators told the media Monday that Aldrich was previously charged with "felony menacing and first-degree kidnapping" after allegedly threatening his own mother with a bomb last year.

"But those charges were later dropped, and the records were sealed," CNN said Monday. "It's not clear why the records were sealed."

"Despite that scare, there's no record prosecutors ever moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against him, 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," NBC News in Washington reported Tuesday.

The suspect's history made him an ideal candidate for a gun removal order under a red flag law. Yet he was never subject to one, and legally purchased the two guns he allegedly used in the shooting.

Colorado data showed that, ironically, the new law, opposed by conservative law enforcement across the state, has been used numerous times successfully by police to prevent possible shootings.

Across America, courts issued 151 gun surrender orders from when the law took effect in April 2019 through 2021, three surrender orders for every 100,000 adults in the state, according to NBC News.

But El Paso County, the most populous county in Colorado, appeared hostile to the law. The county took the brazen step of joining nearly 2,000 counties nationwide in declaring themselves "Second Amendment Sanctuaries" that "protect" the constitutional right to bear arms.

Those law enforcement people said the 2019 red flag law "infringes upon the inalienable rights of law-abiding citizens" by ordering police to "forcibly enter premises and seize a citizen's property with no evidence of a crime."

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder told the media that his office would "wait for family members to ask a court for surrender orders and not petition for them on its own accord, unless there were "exigent circumstances" and "probable cause" of a crime, NBC added.

El Paso County, with a population of 730,000, had only 13 temporary firearm removals through the end of last year, four of which turned into longer ones of at least six months.

The county sheriff's office declined to answer what happened after Aldrich's arrest last year, including whether anyone asked to have his weapons removed. The press release issued by the sheriff's office at the time said no explosives were found but did not mention anything about whether any weapons were recovered.

Colorado state Rep. Meg Froelich told the local Colorado Public Radio that the legislature should examine how local authorities are using or failing to use the red flag law.

"Is it being applied and enforced? That's something we want to look at," Froelich said.

Colorado state Senator Rhonda Fields, a key advocate of new gun control laws and whose son was murdered in 2005 along with his fiancée, said local law enforcement leaders may be falling short of their duties. "I think if they're not gonna follow the law, they should not be in law enforcement."

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