AURORA—As mourners paid their respects Saturday to the victims of the Aurora theater shooting, Mayors Against Illegal Guns marked the one-year anniversary by coming to Colorado to push for national gun-control legislation.
The organization, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, held a “remembrance event” Friday at which relatives of shooting victims recalled their loved ones–but also cheered the Colorado state legislature for passing firearms restrictions and urged Congress to do the same.
“We cannot afford to sit idly by as more and more of our loved ones are killed with guns,” said Jane Dougherty, whose sister was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn. “Please join me in demanding that our elected officials have the courage to lead and pass the Gun Violence Prevention Bill.”
The political tone of the event stood in sharp contrast to the local memorials held Saturday in honor of the 12 people killed and 58 injured during a gunman’s rampage at the midnight premier of “The Dark Knight Rises”
The city of Aurora mourned the victims Saturday morning at its 7/20 Day of Remembrance by ringing a bell 12 times, once for each of those killed. Mayor Steve Hogan and Gov. John Hickenlooper read the names of those who died, and the Hinckley High School choir performed “Amazing Grace.”
“One year ago, the peace of our community was shattered, and our world was changed forever,” said Hogan. “We are still seeking answers and a sense of justice to what seems incomprehensible.”
Just after midnight Friday, hundreds of mourners gathered on a hill overlooking the Century 16 theater to light candles in memory of those who died. The gathering was timed to coincide with the time of the shooting, which began at 12:38 a.m.
Twelve white crosses were placed near the Century 16 theater draped with blue ribbons and flowers, with each cross bearing the name of a victim.
The Mayors Against Illegal Guns event at Cherry Creek State Park was part of its “No More Names” campaign, a 25-city, 100-day bus tour launched in June to drum up support for gun-control legislation.
Among the speakers was Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex Sullivan was killed in the Aurora massacre. He said he became active in the gun debate this year by testifying before the state legislature, which approved three gun-control bills in March.
“I decided that when the debate started here in Colorado on some common-sense answers to gun violence, I could go to the state capitol and listen to what was being said,” said Sullivan. “I could stand in line to testify in favor of new laws that I hoped would make my community safer.”
The event was sharply criticized by gun-rights supporters, who accused the Bloomberg group of using the Aurora tragedy to score political points.
“I think it’s disgusting that he’s bringing this organization here on July 19 to do an anti-gun rally,” said Independence Institute research director David Kopel on Colorado Public Television’s “Colorado Inside Out.”
“Is it legitimate to talk about guns? Of course,” said Kopel, who represents the plaintiffs in lawsuit against a newly passed gun bill. “But Bloomberg didn’t have to bring his roadshow here to do that this week. And of course it creates a counter-rally, so now there’s this divisiveness.”
At the “No More Names” event, a few dozen gun-rights advocates stood quietly about 50 feet from the press conference behind a fenced-off “spectator area.” Several held sign with pro-gun messages, but didn’t interrupt the speakers.
Tina Griffiths of Denver, who carried a homemade “You Can’t Have CO’s Guns” sign, said she attended the event both to show support for the victims of the Aurora shooting and to stand up for gun owners.
“In part, I’m here for them,” said Tina Griffiths of Denver, referring to the victims’ relatives. “How can we not have sympathy for the victims’ families? They lost someone they loved.”
At the same time, she said, “just because they [the killers] had a gun doesn’t make the rest of us criminals.”
State Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), whose district includes the theater, was the only elected official who attended the “No More Names” press conference.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns moved to capitalize on the one-year anniversary by launching a television ad campaign aimed at U.S. senators who voted against the federal bill to expand background checks, the Associated Press reported.
The ad, which features Aurora shooting survivor Stephen Barton, is also scheduled to run in Denver.