During Friday’s hearing on a proposed bill to keep guns out of the hands of those who are proven to be dangerous, state Sen. Vicki Marble, a staunch opponent of gun control measures, used the Jussie Smollett case to raise concerns about the prevalence of false reporting.
The so-called “red flag” bill would allow law enforcement or family members of those who may present a threat to themselves or others to ask a judge for an “extreme risk protection order,” or ERPO, to temporarily take away a person’s firearms. The order can be extended for up to a year if the judge finds the threat to be ongoing.
In order to bolster her argument that people with malicious intent would use the law have guns seized from those who don’t pose a legitimate threat, Marble brought up the case of Jussie Smollett, the TV star who became the subject of media scrutiny after he claimed to have been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack. Law enforcement officers in Chicago, where the alleged crime was reported, are now saying that Smollett staged the attack.
The story has since been trumpeted by the right-wing as evidence of left-wing media bias and an effort to falsely portray conservatives, and Trump supporters in particular, as violent and bigoted.
Smollett was arrested and charged with filing a false report. But Marble has joined conservatives in weaponizing the incident, this time using it as a springboard for arguing that those who file false reports to have someone’s guns seized won’t face consequences:
“Everyone is very aware of the false reporting that goes on. We had an excellent example of that with the Jussie Smollett case, how far he would go actually to feign something that never was true, and it isn’t the first time. I worked within the court system for almost 20 years, and the false reporting is rampant… What I’m wondering about, is on those false reportings, what guarantees do we have that those people are going to be investigated for false reporting, and some repercussion on them for the extent they went to hurt somebody, maybe an innocent person? And these scenarios, they happen a lot more than what we would like.”
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock then pointed out how “there’s already a system in place” for handling this type of offense, both in existing Colorado law and the bill itself.
The measure states that anyone who makes a “malicious or false” effort to have someone’s guns seized is subject to criminal prosecution. It also states that victims of false reporting can sue for damages.
And, in an additional effort to ensure due process, the bill mandates that the gun owner is provided a lawyer at the hearing to determine whether the ERPO be extended beyond the initial 14-day temporary period of gun seizure.
But Marble continued to express concern, saying, “I’m not aware of very many people who have done the false reporting ever get charged, so is it really gonna mean anything?”
Spurlock then continued to assure her:
“All I can say is that if in your jurisdiction, in Broomfield and Larimer and Weld, if those District Attorneys in those jurisdictions are not pursuing them, I think that’s a question you should ask the District Attorney. I can tell you that in Douglas County we have people that file false reports, and my office investigates those and we submit them to the District Attorney to pursue them, and the system is designed to do just that.”
Supporters of “red flag” legislation in Colorado say it will save lives, and often point to the case of Douglas County sheriff’s deputy Zackari Parrish, who was killed by a mentally ill gunman in 2017.
Spurlock has said he believes that if Colorado would have had a red flag law on the books back in 2017, then Parrish would still be alive today.
The bill passed out of the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee on a party-line vote Friday, and then out of the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday. It’s now up for a vote in the full Senate.