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Colorado enacted a red flag law 3 years ago. One family says it prevented a tragedy

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

A proposed law in Michigan to keep guns away from dangerous people is gaining attention again this week after the mass shooting at Michigan State University. Three years ago, Colorado enacted a red flag law. Enforcement is spotty. But one family says it prevented a tragedy. Colorado Public Radio's Andrew Kenney reports.

ANDREW KENNEY, BYLINE: John Boulware's the antique shop in Denver is crowded with early American history from Revolutionary War drums...

JOHN BOULWARE: Ready for somebody to restring it and enjoy it.

KENNEY: ...To 18th century American tea kettles.

J BOULWARE: And they're very hard to find because it was cheaper to import them from England and Scandinavia.

KENNEY: John's built a reputation in Denver for more than 40 years. His late brother, Richard, was also a prominent figure in the city as a photographer and an airport executive. Richard was the eldest of four brothers. And John was the youngest.

J BOULWARE: I'm the baby of the family.

KENNEY: But over the years, the two men became estranged.

J BOULWARE: In fact, we didn't talk for 15 years. He was getting older and was very hard to deal with.

KENNEY: As Richard reached his 80s, John started to hear disturbing things. Richard was stockpiling guns and food. He feared mob rule.

J BOULWARE: He was a doomsday prepper.

KENNEY: John saw the situation firsthand after Richard got injured and John started helping him get around.

J BOULWARE: Things weren't normal, at least what I call normal.

KENNEY: At Richard's townhome, John found a night vision scope aimed at the door, some 5,000 rounds of heavy-duty ammunition and rifles and pistols all around the place. Richard pointed a loaded pistol at John as he tried to show it off.

J BOULWARE: I said, don't aim that thing at me when you're trying to get a round out of it.

KENNEY: The family grew concerned that Richard was delusional and that he could shoot a delivery person.

J BOULWARE: Or me or anybody else.

KENNEY: Richard's brothers were able to force him into a mental health facility. John took the guns to his place. But when Richard got out, he told the cops the weapons had been stolen.

J BOULWARE: He charged me, called them up and charged me with felony theft.

KENNEY: A recording of Richard surrendering the guns was enough to prove John's innocence. But the cops went further to ensure Richard couldn't rearm himself. They brought in Colorado's three-year-old red flag law, which allows judges to ban people from having guns if they're deemed a danger to themselves or others. Denver police division chief Joe Montoya.

JOE MONTOYA: When the legislation was passed, the department's decision was to fully embrace it.

KENNEY: We reviewed more than 300 red flag cases across Colorado and found that Denver has filed far more than any other agency in the state, about 90 over the law's first three years in existence. Montoya says the department's dedicated red flag team gives them a new option to deal with dangerous situations that could otherwise go unaddressed.

MONTOYA: Sometimes you just had that little nervous feeling in your stomach that this could end up bad down the road. We're going to be reading about this person, you know? And now knowing that at least you have the ability to take some sort of action that could hopefully prevent something from happening, I think it's a good thing.

KENNEY: In the Boulwares' case, a detective filed a detailed petition in court. Richard was appointed an attorney to represent him while the city built its case. Soon, a judge held a hearing and banned Richard from possessing or buying guns for a year. Another brother, Tad Boulware, attended by phone.

TAD BOULWARE: Relief, total relief, could not have been happier.

KENNEY: Just a couple of months later, last February, Richard Boulware died of natural causes, alone but unarmed. After everything that happened, John and Tad still honor him as their eldest brother.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Kenney.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYMBYC SYSTYM'S "1000 ARMS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Kenny