Gay club shooting suspect evaded Colorado’s red flag gun law

U.S.

Colorado Springs police, the FBI and others investigate the scene of a shooting at Club Q on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colo. An attacker opened fire in a gay nightclub late Saturday night. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via AP)

DENVER (AP) — A year and a half before he was arrested in the Colorado Springs gay nightclub shooting that left five people dead, Anderson Lee Aldrich allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb, forcing neighbors in surrounding homes to evacuate while the bomb squad and crisis negotiators talked him into surrendering.

Yet despite that scare, there’s no public record that prosecutors moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich, 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.

Gun control advocates say Aldrich’s June 2021 threat is an example of a red flag law ignored, with potentially deadly consequences. While it’s not clear the law could have prevented Saturday night’s attack — such gun seizures can be in effect for as little as 14 days and be extended by a judge in six-month increments — they say it could have at least slowed Aldrich and raised his profile with law enforcement.

“We need heroes beforehand — parents, co-workers, friends who are seeing someone go down this path,” said Colorado state Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the Aurora theater shooting and sponsored the state’s red flag law passed in 2019. “This should have alerted them, put him on their radar.”

But the law that allows guns to be removed from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others has seldom been used in the state, particularly in El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, where the 22-year-old Aldrich allegedly went into Club Q with a long gun at just before midnight and opened fire before he was subdued by patrons.

An Associated Press analysis found Colorado 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. That’s a third of the average ratio of orders issued for the 19 states and District of Columbia with surrender laws on their books.

El Paso County appears especially hostile to the law. It joined nearly 2,000 counties nationwide in declaring themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” that protect the constitutional right to bear arms, passing a 2019 resolution that says the 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.”

County Sheriff Bill Elder has said 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.” The county, with a population of 730,000, had 13 temporary firearm removals through the end of last year, four of which turned into longer ones of at least six months.

Ring doorbell video obtained by the AP from a woman who rented a room in her home to Aldrich’s mother shows Aldrich arriving at the front door the day of the 2021 bomb threat, telling his mother the police were nearby as he lugged a heavy black bag, then saying: “This is where I stand. Today I die.”

Two squad cars and what appears to be a bomb squad vehicle later pull up to the house, and Aldrich emerges with his hands up.

Leslie Bowman, the mother’s former landlord who alerted the police that day, said she was angry they didn’t do more to monitor Aldrich after the incident.

“If the justice system had followed through with something — anything — whether it was probation or whether he was being supervised or whatnot, if it was anything, he wouldn’t likely have had access to be able to get a weapon and five people wouldn’t have died,” Bowman said.

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.

Spokesperson Lt. Deborah Mynatt referred further questions about the case to the district attorney’s office.

An online court records search did not turn up any formal charges filed against Aldrich in last year’s case. And in an update on a story on the bomb threat, The Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs reported that prosecutors did not pursue any charges in the case and that records were sealed.

The Gazette also reported Sunday that it got a call from Aldrich in August asking that it remove a story about the incident.

“There is absolutely nothing there, the case was dropped, and I’m asking you either remove or update the story,” Aldrich said in a voice message to an editor. “The entire case was dismissed.”

A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, Howard Black, declined to comment on whether any charges were pursued. He said the shooting investigation will also include a study of the bomb threat.

“There will be no additional information released at this time,” Black said. “These are still investigative questions.”

AP’s study of 19 states and the District of Columbia with red flag laws on their books found they have been used about 15,000 times since 2020, less than 10 times for every 100,000 adults in each state. Experts called that woefully low and hardly enough to make a dent in gun killings.

Just this year, authorities in Highland Park, Illinois, were criticized for not trying to take guns away from the 21-year-old accused of a Fourth of July parade shooting that left seven dead. Police had been alerted about him in 2019 after he threatened to “kill everyone” in his home.

Duke University sociologist Jeffrey Swanson, an expert in red flag laws, said the Colorado Springs case could be yet another missed warning sign.

“This seems like a no brainer, if the mom knew he had guns,” Swanson said. “If you removed firearms from the situation, you could have had a different ending to the story.”

___

Condon reported from New York. AP reporter Sam Metz contributed to this story from Salt Lake City.

___

Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Trending on NewsNation

Elections 2022

More Elections 2022