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Leader of Colorado’s gun violence prevention office won’t talk to press in wake of Club Q shooting

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Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
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Colorado lawmakers created the Office of Gun Violence Prevention in June, 2021 as a response to the deadly mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers.

Colorado lawmakers say the Office of Gun Violence Prevention is one of the most important tools the state has to stop shootings like the one that killed five people at a gay club in Colorado Springs over the weekend.

But the person leading that office is not talking to the media or agreeing to be interviewed in the wake of the shooting.

On Monday morning, KUNC asked for an interview with Director Jonathan McMillan to talk about the Colorado Springs shooting and “what the Office of Gun Violence Prevention has been working on in its inaugural months.”

The interview would also have included questions about the programs and initiatives that are in the works at the new office, which was created in June 2021.

Kacie Henderson, a spokesperson for McMillan, said the office could “not accommodate the request” to interview him.

"Our office’s purview is not one of response in the wake of a specific incident."
Kacie Henderson, a spokesperson for the Office of Gun Violence Prevention’s Director Jonathan McMillan

When pressed for a reason, Henderson said "our office’s purview is not one of response in the wake of a specific incident."

Henderson added the Office of Gun Violence Prevention does not want to “interfere” with questions that Henderson said should instead be directed toward law enforcement, the governor’s office and other state agencies.

State Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, led the effort to create the Office of Gun Violence Prevention in April 2021 as a direct response to the deadly mass shooting at the Boulder King Soopers.

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Scott Franz
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Capitol Coverage
Sen. Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, talks in April, 2021 about the bills lawmakers planned to pursue in response to the Boulder shooting. State Rep. Tom Sullivan, far left, sponsored the bill to create the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

He said Tuesday he was “saddened” to hear the office’s director is not accepting interview requests to talk about the tragedy in Colorado Springs.

“I’m saddened to hear that they’re reluctant to talk to somebody about the issue, especially when we have a mass shooting in our state gaining as much notoriety as it is,” Sullivan said. “It’s not the time to be staying in the background. It’s a time for the leaders to get out in front of this issue and confront it and let the people know what our plans are.”

Sullivan and other lawmakers have been pointing to the new office in recent months as one of the legislature’s most significant policy responses to mass shootings.

They also view it as a leader in such efforts.

“I mean, when instances like this happen and they can be prevented, of course we’re not moving fast enough,” Sullivan said. “We’re doing, you know, all that we can and we’re not going to stop doing.”
State Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial

And many are looking to the office this week for answers in the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting at Club Q, where five people were killed and 17 people were injured. The suspect is facing murder and hate crime charges.

State Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, told KUNC on Tuesday she thinks the Office of Gun Violence Prevention can address a “dangerous combination” in Colorado that includes a proliferation of guns and a broken mental health system.

Asked if he thought the Office of Gun Violence Prevention is moving fast enough to launch its outreach efforts, including educating the public about Colorado’s red flag law, Sullivan said Saturday’s shooting adds a new sense of urgency.

“I mean, when instances like this happen and they can be prevented, of course we’re not moving fast enough,” Sullivan said. “We’re doing, you know, all that we can and we’re not going to stop doing.”

McMillan reacted to the Colorado Springs shooting on his personal Twitter account on Monday.

He said “gun violence, no matter where it happens, no matter the motivation, and no matter who the victims are, is a public health crisis in Colorado.”

“Still getting acclimated”

McMillan started leading the Office of Gun Violence Prevention in May.

KUNC previously reached out to McMillan for an interview about two weeks after he started. He forwarded the request to his spokespeople, and they responded eight days later saying “Jonathan is still getting acclimated in his new position and isn’t quite ready for interviews.”

They said to check back later in the spring.

The posted job description for McMillan’s position says the director is “responsible for building and maintaining relationships with state, community, and national stakeholders in firearm injury prevention, and utilizing and responding to the media to communicate about these issues.”

It also says the director “navigates politically sensitive situations, as the office deals with topics that are often political in nature.”

Kacie Henderson, the spokesperson for the office, emailed KUNC a list of the office’s current projects after denying a request to interview McMillan.

Henderson said the office is “creating an information campaign to educate the public about gun violence prevention,” and working to launch a grant program “so that community organizations and local governments can assist in achieving the goals of the office.”

She also said the office is creating an information bank to house statistical information about gun violence.

Colorado lawmakers dedicated $3 million dollars to the office when it launched last year.

It is publicly funded, and housed in the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.