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KUNC is a member of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.

Drama Surrounds GOP Lawmaker's Support For Colorado Gun Bill

Bente Birkeland
Capitol Coverage
Republican House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist speaks in support of the red flag bill he's sponsoring on the day it was introduced.

A Republican House leader is facing a backlash from his own caucus for sponsoring a bill that would allow law enforcement and family members to get a court order to temporarily remove a person’s guns if that person poses a danger. The so-called "red flag" measure cleared the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday night along party lines.

In a late-night caucus meeting on Monday, the day the bill was introduced, House Republicans discussed whether to strip Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist from his leadership spot. It’s unprecedented to abruptly consider such a move during the legislative session.

"I made the motion and Rep. [Dave] Williams seconded," said Steve Humphrey, R-Ault, in a text message.

He added that most of the House caucus felt it was fair to remove Wist.

"The reason was the blindsiding disrespect shown for the caucus and for the rest of our leadership by co-priming a Bloomberg gun confiscation bill in spite of our Republican principles and platform," said Humphrey.

He said he’s fine with someone being a main sponsor on any bill they want — but said a member of leadership has an added responsibility.

"It’s just not appropriate for him to remain in leadership and run afoul of our caucus and platform in this fashion," said Humphrey.

Republicans did not vote on the motion and Wist retained his leadership spot. Some told us they considered it a "family meeting" to iron out differences.

During the bill's first committee hearing Wist defended his support for House Bill 1436, known as the Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Prevention Act. The bill is named after a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy who was killed last year by a man who was mentally ill that law enforcement had been dealing with. It was his death that inspired Wist to back the bill.

"The issue is not about gun ownership, gun confiscation, it’s not about banning guns, it’s about giving law enforcement, and more importantly, family the ability to do something to save a person in crisis," Wist said.

Wist serves on the House Judiciary committee but was temporarily removed from the committee during Tuesday’s vote. He said that it was his choice and Minority Leader Patrick Neville replaced him. Neville opposes the bill and worries it would not make people safer or help them with mental health problems, and would infringe on 2nd Amendment rights.

"We’re supposedly having due process, but if it’s civil court that requires someone who has had their constitutional rights taken away, they would have to pay for their own counsel," said Neville.

Supporters of the bill say it could save lives. Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock was Deputy Parrish’s supervisor. He testified that 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. "Who?"

Spurlock, a Republican, recalled a murder suicide two years ago when a mother picked up her two children from school, then bought a gun, killing her children and then herself.

"Everyone in the family knew that she was having mental health issues. This bill would have saved her and her children’s life clearly from the gunshot wounds, because she would not have been able to purchase one," said Spurlock.

Republican leaders in the Senate have already expressed skepticism about the measure, making its passage in that chamber unlikely. It’s not clear when the dust will settle with Wist. Democrats on the judiciary committee praised him as a leader.

"To me that is jumping into a difficult situation where others might not," said Rep. Mike Weissman, D, Aurora.  

Meanwhile, in a tweet, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners referred to Wist as "Cole 'The Mole.'"

Other House Republicans said they were surprised to learn Wist was sponsoring the bill with Democratic assistant majority leader Alec Garnett, but said they want to move on from it.

"If you don’t communicate that you’re going to drop something, then lo and behold it becomes a surprise to somebody," said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida.

Wilson said he’s been busy with his own committees, plus lawmakers are scrambling during the last days of the legislative session to pass major items like transportation funding and school finance.

"I didn’t know the bill was dropping, I just didn’t know."

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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