Colorado Dems Introduce ‘Red Flag’ Gun Bill On 1st Anniversary Of Parkland Shooting

<p>Bente Birkeland/CPR News</p>
Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan sits in the legislature while wearing his son’s leather jacket. Sullivan’s son was killed in the Aurora Theater Shooting.
Photo: 2019 COLEG Red Flag Bill 1 | Tom Sullivan - BBirkeland
Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan sits in the legislature while wearing his son's leather jacket. Sullivan's son was killed in the Aurora Theater Shooting.

Published 9:50 a.m. | Updated 1:31 p.m.

A bill aimed at making it easier to temporarily remove guns from someone who is a danger to themselves or others will be introduced today at the Colorado legislature

HB19-1177 comes on the anniversary of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting that killed 17 students and staff members.

Democratic freshman Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial is one of the bill’s main sponsors. His son was killed in the 2012 Aurora Theater Shooting and a desire for stricter gun laws is why Sullivan got into politics when he decided to run for office last fall.

“This is an opportunity for us to save lives here in the state of Colorado,” said Sullivan, who wears his son’s leather jacket to the capitol every day. This will be the first time he’ll keep it on throughout the day in honor of the bill’s introduction.

“He’s a part of everything I do,” he said. “Wearing this you can actually feel him there. I understand that we represent gun violence victims not just in our community but across the state.”

The bill will be named after Zackari Parrish, a Douglas County Sheriff’s deputy who was killed by a mentally ill man. Sheriff Tony Spurlock, Parrish’s supervisor and a strong backer of the so-called “red flag” measure that failed in the previous session, believes law enforcement needs more tools to remove guns.

“Who in their right mind would think that it’s OK to sell a gun to someone who is mentally ill?” he said at a hearing at the capitol. “Who?”

Senate Republicans defeated the bill. Opponents said it wouldn’t make people safer or help them with mental health problems, and it would infringe on 2nd Amendment rights. While Sheriff Spurlock himself is a Republican, the proposal has divided the GOP inside the capitol. A Republican House leader who previously sponsored the bill, Cole Wist, faced a revolt in his own caucus and was almost stripped of his leadership position.

“Colo. Rep. @colewist a Republican, just announced he’s sponsoring a “red flag” GUN CONFISCATION deal with anti-gun Democrats for Bloomberg’s lobbyists,” said Rocky Mountain Gun Owners in a tweet. “Call Rep. Cole “The Mole” Wist now.”

Wist lost reelection in 2018 to Sullivan, and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners campaigned against him because of his support for the red flag proposal.

Democratic House Majority Leader Alec Garnett will again sponsor the red flag bill. While he expects more organized opposition and no bipartisan support, he is optimistic that it can pass the Democratic controlled legislature.

“We are going to take this bill from the starting line to the finish line because we can’t stand idly by,” Garnett said.

While similar, Garnett said the new bill won’t be a carbon copy of the proposal that failed in 2018. The differences: The court order to remove guns would last 364 days instead of 6 months. The bill adds money for legal counsel and creates a pool of attorneys to help in these cases so the respondendent wouldn’t have to pay for representation. There’s an added option for a Judge to hold a second hearing during the order to re-assess whether the person still needs it.

But a big sticking point for opponents will likely be a new provision that would require someone to prove they’re no longer a risk in order to have their guns returned before the 364 days are up. Garnett said the changes to the bill came at the request of law enforcement.

“I think this is going to cause a lot of strife in our state,” said Republican Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone. She also worried it could lead to fatal accidents. “If we have law enforcement coming into people’s homes where they’re not ready, if someone else has pointed a finger and said ‘I don’t think this person is mentally competent or they may be a threat to themselves.’”