Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers speaks during a news conference Nov. 21 about Saturday’s mass shooting at an LGBTQ bar. (David Zalubowski/AP)
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A shooting at a Colorado Springs nightclub that left five dead last week has raised questions about Colorado’s red-flag law and whether it was implemented properly. But the town’s mayor said Monday that “we don’t know” whether the gun law would have applied in the case and possibly prevented the bloody incident.

Speaking at a news conference, Colorado Springs officials did not confirm that the suspect in the shooting at Club Q was the same man who threatened his mother with a bomb last year, despite sharing the same age and name. They also declined to say whether a red-flag law — through which authorities can remove guns from a potentially dangerous person — should have been applied because of such an incident.

Mayor John Suthers (R) said he would “caution against an assumption that the circumstances of this case would lead to application of the red-flag law — we don’t know that.”

Colorado Springs authorities said Nov. 21 that they are still investigating the motive, but they "do not tolerate bias-motivated crimes" in their community. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Colorado law, which passed in 2019, allows authorities to seize weapons from people who are deemed dangerous to themselves or the community. If it had been triggered after the report of the bomb threat, authorities would have temporarily seized the suspect’s weapons.

“Law enforcement agencies in appropriate circumstances should take advantage of it and utilize the law,” Suthers said.

What are red-flag laws?

But not all jurisdictions enforce the red-flag law equally. El Paso County, Colo., where the 2021 threat was reported, demonstrated its opposition to the law in 2019 by declaring itself a “Second Amendment preservation county.”

Police have also not yet said how or when the gunman acquired the guns.

No formal charges were brought after the 2021 bomb threat incident, and the records were put under seal — part of a state law that allows some arrest charges that were dismissed to be sealed automatically, said 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen.

“The idea behind that is that that person shouldn’t have to carry that charge around them for the rest of their lives if there’s no way to convict them of that charge,” Allen said.

LGBTQ club shooting suspect’s troubled past was obscured by a name change, records show

That same law “requires us to say in response to questions about it that no such record exists,” Allen said. “That’s the design behind it, I know that’s an unsatisfying answer, but that’s the status of the law as it exists right now.”

Red-flag laws, also known as extreme-risk protection orders, exist in 19 states and the District of Columbia. They have gained rare bipartisan traction in Congress as a way to reduce the risk of mass shootings but also uphold the Second Amendment. In June, President Biden signed a bipartisan law that aimed to encourage more states to enact red-flag laws.

Although implementation varies widely depending on the state, red-flag laws have been credited with preventing suicides, and in some cases possibly preventing mass shootings, according to preliminary research.

Florida’s version allows only law enforcement officials to petition the courts to take away someone’s guns, while those in Maryland and D.C. let mental health providers petition courts. New York allows school officials, and Hawaii allows co-workers. Colorado’s version permits law enforcement or members of the person’s family or household to petition judges.

A 2018 study showed that red-flag laws were associated with a 7.5 percent decrease in firearm-related suicides in Indiana and a 13.6 percent reduction in Connecticut, although the latter state’s decrease was offset by an increase in non-firearm suicides.

A 2020 study conducted in Washington state’s King County, which includes Seattle, found that red-flag laws succeeded in taking away weapons from people who had shown an intent to commit a mass shooting in five cases. A 2019 study reported that California’s red-flag law let authorities seize weapons in 21 cases that involved individuals who had vowed to shoot others.