El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder Was All About the Second Amendment Before the Club Q Attack

In the two years before this weekend’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Sheriff Bill Elder of surrounding El Paso County stridently opposed a 2020 “red flag” law that authorizes the courts to bar dangerous individuals from possessing or purchasing firearms.

“I am exploring all available legal options and am committed to vigorously challenging the constitutionality of this law,” Elder said in April 2019.

Elder was also vocal in supporting an anti-red flag resolution passed unanimously by county commissioners. What is officially known as the Second Amendment Preservation Resolution declares El Paso to be a “Second Amendment preservation county.” It describes Elder as “a staunch promoter of the Second Amendment,” noting he had issued in excess of 45,500 concealed carry permits, “more than any other Sheriff in the state.”

The sheriff further established his gun rights credentials in June 2020, when a local shooting range posted a video of him trying out a fully automatic rifle as onlookers applauded and cheered. He remarked on how easy the weapon was to handle and aim.

“Didn’t move at all,” he said. “It didn’t rise at all.”

He walked up to a paper silhouette that had served as his target and ran an index finger over the bullet holes.

“He’s dead,” the shooting range owner joked.

Around midnight this past Saturday, somebody else with a long rifle—and a handgun—strode into Club Q and murdered five innocents. The police identified the killer as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, and a quick check online produced a sheriff’s office news release on an incident involving someone with the same name, date of birth, and physical dimensions last year. The case proved to have subsequently been sealed, which in Colorado legally restricts officials from saying anything but “no such record exists.”

But a question now arose: Could Elder have nevertheless applied the red flag law and kept Aldrich from possessing firearms?

Elder suddenly had nothing to say about the provision he had found so objectionable.

“Nope, not talking about it,” he told The Daily Beast on Monday.

As recounted by the 2021 El Paso County Sheriff’s news release, deputies arrested Aldrich last June for two counts of felony menacing and three counts of first-degree kidnapping. It all began when Aldrich’s mother called to allege that he had threatened her with “a homemade bomb, multiple weapons and ammunition.” The sheriff’s news release says Aldrich initially refused to surrender. In a Facebook Live video recorded inside a house where his mother was renting a room, he can be heard taunting law enforcement, talking about dying as the surrounding residences were evacuated. He finally emerged from the house with his hands raised and was taken into custody.

For reasons the authorities have not explained, charges against Aldrich were dropped, and there were no felony arrests on his record that would have prevented him from passing a background check to buy firearms. But Elder’s office still could have sought an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) as provided by the red flag law.

In a process open to law enforcement, family, or even concerned members of the public, Elder could have submitted an affidavit to a local judge attesting that Aldrich constituted a danger to himself or others. The owner of the house where Aldrich’s mother rented a room gave authorities the Facebook Live video from the standoff, and it would have bolstered a contention that Aldrich was not somebody who should be anywhere near a gun.

After a hearing in person or over the phone, the judge could have imposed an ERPO that required Aldrich to surrender any firearms in his possession and barred him from acquiring any others. The prohibition would have had to be renewed after 14 days and then again one day short of a year.

The Colorado Springs Police Department took the lead in the Club Q investigation, so maybe that is why the sheriff was not present at Monday’s press conference about the case. His absence enabled District Attorney Michael Allen to say there was nobody present who could discuss the question of why the red flag law had not been applied after last year’s incident.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said, “Hopefully there’ll be a time when there can be a specific discussion about any prior interaction with law enforcement. And I think… those circumstances would cause one to be able to, um, make commentary about potential application of the red flag law.”

“But I think it’s premature to do so now,” he concluded.

That prompted a reporter to suggest that making a bomb threat and getting into a standoff with the police might be indicative of a dangerous individual.

“You’re assuming that there’s credible evidence of all that as opposed to someone reporting it and that the prosecutor had evidence of that, and I would not make assumptions of that nature,” the mayor replied.

The mayor had apparently not seen the Facebook Live video made during the standoff.

CSPD Chief Adrian Vasquez stepped up to the podium. His department has submitted only two of the 348 red flag petitions received by the courts since the law took effect in January 2020.

“I would just echo the mayor’s, uh, stance on the red flag law,” he said. “It is currently a law in Colorado… If law enforcement has credible information that fits within the parameters of the red flag flag law, then we should take action.”

The press conference ended with no mention of Elder. His spokesperson did not respond to a query whether the sheriff’s office had submitted any red flag petitions.

Under Colorado law, prosecutors can inspect a sealed case if it has bearing on a current one. And that would seem to apply to Aldrich’s previous case. Everyone will then be better able to judge if Elder could have used the law he opposed to keep guns out of the hands of the young man now accused of demonstrating just how murderously dangerous he could be.

But by then, Elder will be gone. He will be leaving office due to term limits. His present undersheriff, Joe Roybal, was elected in the November general election to replace him. The shooting range where Elder was videoed blazing away offered $5 off for anybody who signed Roybal’s petition to enter the race. Roybal is president of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition, whose motto is “Liberty isn’t going to defend itself.” He has posted photos of himself at a gun show, noting: “Love interacting with our 2A community.”

“I will continue to support and defend your 2nd Amendment rights and continue to combat assaults on our constitutional rights,” he has promised.

Roybal apparently views the red flag law as one of those assaults. Never mind that it just might have prevented the killing at Club Q. Law enforcement is saying the carnage might have been “much, much” worse were it not for the remarkable bravery of a combat veteran who immediately charged the shooter and subdued him.

What if there had been no carnage at all?

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