DENVER — A year and a half before he was arrested in the shooting at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub that killed five people, Anderson Lee Aldrich allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb and forced neighbors in nearby houses during the bombing raid and evacuate the crisis negotiator persuaded him to surrender.
But despite this fear, there is no public record that prosecutors have pursued criminal kidnappings and threatened charges against Aldrich, or that police or relatives have attempted to trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law that would have allowed authorities to use the guns and to confiscate ammunition the man’s mother says he had with him.
Gun control advocates say Aldrich’s June 2021 threat is an example of an ignored warning flag law with potentially deadly consequences. While it’s not clear the law could have prevented Saturday night’s attack — such gun seizures can only last 14 days and can be extended by a judge in six-month increments — they say it could have at least slowed down Aldrich and increased his Profile with Law Enforcement.
“We need heroes beforehand — parents, co-workers, friends to see someone embark on this journey,” said Colorado State Assemblyman Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the Aurora Theater shooting and the 2019 law passed sponsored the state’s red flag “That should have alerted them and put him on their radar.”
But the law, which allows guns to be removed from anyone deemed dangerous to themselves or others, has rarely been used in the state, particularly in El Paso County, home of Colorado Springs, where 22-year-old Aldrich is said to be with walked into the club just before midnight with a long gun and opened fire before being overpowered by patrons.
An Associated Press analysis found that Colorado has one of the lowest rates of red flag use, despite widespread gun ownership and several high-profile mass shootings.
Since the law went into effect in April 2019 through 2021, courts have issued 151 gun surrender orders, three gun surrender orders for every 100,000 adults in the state. That’s one-third the proportion of orders issued for the 19 states and the District of Columbia with surrender laws on their books.
El Paso County appears to be particularly anti-law. It has joined nearly 2,000 counties across the country to declare themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” that protect the constitutional right to bear arms, and passed a 2019 resolution saying the law with the red flag “violates the inalienable rights of law-abiding citizens” by ordering police to “force entry into premises and seize a citizen’s property without evidence of a crime.”
County Sheriff Bill Elder said his office would wait until family members seek surrender orders from a court and would not seek them on their own initiative unless there were “threatening circumstances” and “probable causes” of a crime.
El Paso County, with a population of 730,000, had 13 temporary firearm removals by the end of last year, four of which became lengthy 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 guns removed. The sheriff’s office press release at the time said no explosives were found, but said nothing about whether any weapons were seized.
Speaker Lt. Deborah Mynatt referred further questions about the case to prosecutors.
An online search of court records found no formal charges against Aldrich in last year’s case. And in an update to an article about the bomb threat, Colorado Springs newspaper The Gazette reported that prosecutors in the case did not press charges and that the records were sealed.
The Gazette also reported Sunday that it received a call from Aldrich in August asking that a story about the incident be removed.
“There is absolutely nothing, the case has been dropped and I am asking that you either remove or update the story,” Aldrich said in a voice message to an editor. “The entire case has been dropped.”
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, Howard Black, declined to comment on whether charges have been filed. He said the investigation into the shooting will also include an investigation into the bomb threat.
“No additional information will be released at this time,” Black said. “These are still investigative questions.”
The AP’s study of 19 states and the District of Columbia with security laws on their books found that they have been used about 15,000 times since 2020, less than 10 times per 100,000 adults in each state. Experts called that pitifully low and barely enough to affect gun homicides.
Just this year, authorities in Highland Park, Illinois, were criticized for not trying to take the guns away from the 21-year-old, who was accused of killing seven people in a July 4 parade. Police were alerted to him in 2019 after he threatened to “kill everyone” at his home.
Duke University sociologist Jeffrey Swanson, an expert on red-flag laws, said the Colorado Springs case could be another overlooked red flag.
“That seems like a no-brainer if the mother knew he had guns,” he said. “If you had removed the firearms from the situation, the story could have had a different ending.”
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.