Yah the problem with painting it without taking it apart is the seam where the turn signal cover and the mast jacket cover meets gets cracked and looks terrible. What tool is used to take off the column shift cover/mast jacket cover?These are a PITA. Right up front I would recommend painting it assembled.
It is not all that obvious how it comes apart.
I found one video on YouTube but it starts well but one can see he quickly gets frustrated and fails to tape the assembly. I am confident he had many tries before getting it together.
The first picture has the top outer housing. GM has a tool for this also as it is held on with only a interference fit.
I go mine off using a puller and reversing the jaws. Really easy to F this housing up using too much force or the wrong tools.
You will need a puller to pull the bell shaped housing from the shift tube. GM makes a special tool for this "shown"/
I'm going to end with my first statement. If it's not broken paint it as is, you can thank me later.
The one in the picture is KENT MOORE J-22549-2 Steering Column Shift Tube Installer
Kent Moore Specialty Service Tool Steering Column Shift Tube Remover J-22551 was used to take it apart.
they are both available on eBay for roughly $30 each.
KENT MOORE J-22549-2 Steering Column Shift Tube Installer