Political gamesmanship keeps ‘red flag’ gun bill from demise

Author: Marianne Goodland - May 4, 2018 - Updated: May 5, 2018

red flag(Photo by coolerthanice, istockphoto)

The Colorado House of Representatives on Friday evening passed, largely along party lines, the “Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act,” aka the red flag bill, which would allow law enforcement or family members to seek a court order that would allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from a person deemed a threat to themselves or to others.

But the vote, the last action taken by the Democrat-controlled House Friday evening, is now under reconsideration, a move that kept it away from the Republican-led Senate and its likely next stop, the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, for at least one more working day.

That Senate committee was meeting as the House vote was being taken, and House Democrats believed that if the bill had gone to the Senate, the state affairs committee would have immediately held a hearing with the intent of killing the bill.

That hearing would have taken place without notice (it’s allowed in the last days of the session) and would have kept bill supporters from having a chance to rally and testify on the measure.

A motion to reconsider must be made by someone who votes on the prevailing side, and it simply asks for a revote on the bill. Assistant House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver made the request immediately following the vote. No date has been set for reconsideration.

The bill’s demise is still likely to happen, given that Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City has said more than once he doesn’t support the red flag concept.

It’s still unknown who will sponsor the bill in the Senate.

The vote to approve House Bill 1436 was 37-23, with five members excused. Among the 37 “yes” votes: Republicans Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial, the bill’s other co-sponsor.

In his remarks advocating for a “yes” vote, Wist spoke of why he decided to sponsor the bill, a move that shocked some of his fellow Republican House members and led to a Monday night caucus meeting in which Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Severance called for the caucus to strip Wist of his leadership position. That vote never came. Republicans, including Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, called the dispute a family feud and one that they worked out.

As he advocated for the bill, Wist said he thought about the people who “make up the fabric” of his vote. That includes his family, who he said has shouldered a heavy burden. Wist was attacked on social media and other places by gun rights groups such as Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

Wist left the Capitol during a committee hearing Thursday night at the request of the State Patrol because of threats he has received over his sponsorship of the bill.

He applauded the Democratic members of the House for handling a tough issue and told his fellow Republicans he respected their voice and opinions. “This week has made us stronger,” he said.

Wist also thanked the Republican elected officials who have worked on the bill, such as the sheriffs of Arapahoe and Douglas counties and 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler. In thanking his co-sponsor, Wist said that in two years of working together with Garnett on a number of bills, “this is the toughest.”

And to those with mental illness, for whom the bill is viewed as a way of preventing suicide or other harm, Wist said, “We are failing you miserably” with a broken mental health system.

Wist said his thoughts turned toward what started him on this journey: law enforcement.

“We expect you to be law enforcers, psychologists, marriage and relationship counselors and crisis mentors. … You do it with dignity, class, compassion and with love. You define service to our state.”

Realizing the bill will likely die in the Senate, Wist said that doesn’t shake his resolve: “I hope we can build from this moment in the coming months,” and “despite all the stress and anger and pain of this week, I believe this has been worth it. This is why we are here.”

And as lawmakers voted, Wist said he will be thinking about Zackari Parrish III — the Douglas County sheriff’s deputy killed in ambush for whom the measure is named — as well as his wife and two young daughters, and all the things Zack Parrish would miss: graduations, father-daughter dances at weddings and grandchildren.

Garnett chided some of his Republican colleagues who he said would rather lock up a person who isn’t a criminal than take away that at-risk person’s guns. He also read a statement from Parrish’s parents. “While recognizing the right to own a gun is a protected right, which we support, it also comes with great responsibility.”

The legislation is not about taking gun rights away from anyone, the parents said; it’s about protecting first responders.

Garnett said that every law enforcement organization, several district attorneys, the mental health community and people who have lost someone to gun violence have spoken in favor of House Bill 1436. This bill reflects the input and best thinking of law enforcement, of district attorneys, the mental health community and even the firearms lobby, he said.

Neville, whose family is tied to Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, spoke against the bill and what it’s like to deliver the news that a son has died in combat, protecting constitutional rights. “If you truly care about those in uniform, … you will not take away the rights they defend for us overseas.”

Everyone is sorry for what happened to Deputy Parrish, said Republican Rep. Judy Reyher of Swink. But lawmakers should “not make a decision this big based on emotion,” she added.

Some of the strongest emotions came from Democratic Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins, who has a son with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Through tears, she talked about her son’s struggles with depression, being jailed and threats of suicide, and her fears that if he had a gun he would use it. “These things are real in our world,” she said.

Thurlow, the only other Republican to vote for the bill, told Colorado Politics he believed it was the right thing to do.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.