Gov. Jared Polis, the nation’s first openly gay governor, learned about the shooting Saturday night at Club Q in Colorado Springs the same way many Coloradans did: He woke up Sunday morning to the shocking news.
He knows the LGBTQ club’s owners, Nic Grzecka and Matthew Haynes, and had in the past attended a happy-hour event at the 21-year-old establishment.
“Every member of the LGBTQ community in El Paso County knows Club Q,” Polis told The Colorado Sun. “It’s really a big part of the scene.”
Polis spoke with The Sun on Sunday about the shooting, which left at least five dead and 25 wounded:
(The following has been edited for clarity and length.)
The Colorado Sun: How familiar are you with Club Q? Do you know the owners? Have you ever been there?
Gov. Jared Polis: I know Nic and Matthew. I know the venue. I told them, both Nic and Matthew, that when they reopen I want to be part of that. In the Colorado Springs community, there’s only, I think, two gay clubs, and this is the biggest.
The Sun: Police say at least two patrons confronted the gunman and stopped his attack. Have you spoken to those people or any of the other victims?
Polis: Their names aren’t public yet. I certainly plan to speak to them. I expect that we’ll be able to publicly thank those who really acted heroically to apprehend the suspect and hold him until the police arrived – a period of about three or four minutes is my understanding. Victims’ families are just being notified as we speak. That has not been completed yet. There’s two or three people who remain in very critical condition and we hope that they make it. The number of injuries is up to 25 – some of those injuries are superficial.
The Sun: How did you learn about the shooting? And what was your first reaction?
Polis: Early this morning. I talked to Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers around 7 a.m. I talked to the club owners around then as well. It’s really just a shock that something like this occurred here. We all remember the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub. And, of course, here in Colorado we’re no stranger to mass shootings. In addition to those who are directly injured or killed, this really traumatizes everybody there – the employees, the staff, the customers, but also everybody who really viewed just going out to have fun and be who you are as something that was safe. This just really causes people to think twice and worry about that.
The Sun: As a gay man and the nation’s first openly gay governor, does this hit a little closer to home?
Polis: We don’t yet know the specifics of why, what the motive was, but there’s no motive that makes sense. The only motive here is pure evil, whether it was for personal reasons or specifically targeted to the LGBTQ community. We now need to focus on coming together around the healing process for those directly involved as well as LGBTQ Americans across the state across the country.
The Sun: You couldn’t be in Colorado Springs on Sunday because you have COVID. I know you try to travel to meet with people affected by tragedy in person. How are you connecting with people in El Paso County? Is it hard not being there?
Polis: I was part of a vigil this morning. I participated virtually. It was packed – 300 people. I was really happy to see this outpouring of community love and support. There is a website people can donate at: coloradohealingfund.org. I think there’s great love in Colorado Springs and in the El Paso County community.
The Sun: There was a lot of anti-transgender rhetoric from Republicans during the 2022 election. I wonder if you think that contributed at all to this?
Polis: I have received very positive outpouring of support from House GOP Leader Mike Lynch and with Rose Pugliese, the assistant House minority leader, who both texted me this morning. I talked to Mayor Suthers, a Republican, and several others. So there’s strong outpouring of support and love for the victims and their families from Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliateds. We don’t know what led to this day. This is a young man who had previous interactions with the law, previous threats that were made that were not LGBTQ-specific. We don’t yet know whether it was a result of polarizing or anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, whether there was some personal motive. I expect that we’ll be getting a full accounting of this in the days ahead. But, in the meantime, we should always counsel everyone to love one another.
The Sun: President Joe Biden is calling for an assault weapons ban as a result of this shooting. Do you think the state or federal government should pursue that policy?
Polis: We’re not even aware of the specific model of the gun that was used in the attack. I think it has been reported that it was a long rifle. This may have been an instance – again, we don’t know this – where the red flag law could have been used if there were warning signs. Clearly, we need to do a better job on the public outreach to make sure people know about the opportunity that the red flag law can provide to prevent people from self harm or for these kinds of tragic events. We’ll be learning again more about the specifics in the days ahead.
Editors’ note: Polis signed the red flag law in 2019. It allows judges, at the request of law enforcement or loved ones, to order the temporary seizure of guns from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others.
The Sun: Mass shootings seem to happen in Colorado more than the rest of the country. Why is that?
Polis: It’s horrific everywhere it happens. Sadly, Colorado is no exception to these horrific acts. I feel that we need to continue to lead with mental and behavioral health and make sure we raise awareness about our red flag law. We also need to make sure that we can bring people together and talk about unity.