Rep-Elect Tom Sullivan, Whose Son Died In Aurora, Will Co-Sponsor Red Flag Gun Bill

Photo: Tom Sullivan December 5 2018
Tom Sullivan at the CPR studios on Wednesday Dec. 5 2018.

Freshman lawmaker Tom Sullivan, whose son died in the Aurora theater shooting, will be the lead house sponsor of a red flag gun bill in the upcoming legislative session.

Red flag measures allow judges to issue temporary orders to confiscate guns owned by people who are deemed to be a risk to themselves or others. Family, friends or members of law enforcement could make a request to a judge.

"It saves lives. And that’s what this is all about, saving lives," Sullivan said.

Sullivan's election to the state House was part of a blue wave in Colorado. Now he's leading a renewed effort for the legislation.

A previous red flag bill died in the Republican-controlled state senate last session.

Democrats reclaimed control of the governor's office and both legislative houses in the November election. They've since said a new red flag bill is near the top of their agenda. Sullivan, who lives in Centennial, represents several of Denver's southern suburbs.

A top Democratic lawmaker, House Majority leader Alec Garnett of Denver, will co-sponsor the new bill. Garnett spearheaded the 2018 legislation.

Sullivan said he doesn't believe a red flag law would have stopped the shooting that killed his son and 11 others, although some people were aware of the shooter's mental problems. Mass shootings are rare, he said, so the bill is more likely to prevent suicides.

Firearms were involved in half of all suicides in Colorado in 2o17, according to the Colorado Health Institute. And in 2016, the majority of all firearm deaths were suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"That’s what is happening. The extreme things like what happened to us ... those are the extraordinary type things," Sullivan said. "What happens is people’s easy access to a firearm when they’re in the throes of a mental problem."

The last red flag gun bill in Colorado lived a short, contentious life. Opponents argued the legislation could be misused by people with an ax to grind against a gun owner, or violate Second Amendment rights.

Sullivan wants to talk through differences across the aisle with the help of experts. But he isn't backing down from the bill, nor is he worried about claims from Republicans that Democrats may overreach with the power of a political trifecta.

"This is what we’re going to do, and this is not an overreach," Sullivan said. "We were elected to go in there and govern, and that’s what we’re going to do."

Sullivan's commitment to the red flag bill stems in part from his belief that enacting the legislation will serve as a thank you to the community that supported his family after his son's death.

"It’s not about me. It’s about the community that I live in," he said.

Alex's funeral drew an overflow crowd, he said. When he stepped up to give his son's eulogy, he took a moment and looked at those in the sanctuary. He saw the governor, the mayor, the chief of police, shooting survivors, Alex’s friends, and first responders who were at the theater.

"I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I will find a way to thank each and everyone of these people who are here this day, who have been supportive of my family, who have shown us the empathy and compassion for us to be able to get through this,' " Sullivan said.

"And I think this is how I can do it."