Aurora day of remembrance turns political over gun violence debate

AURORA, Colo. - A survivor of the Aurora theater massacre joined family members of the victims, Newtown families and faith leaders at Cherry Creek State Park Friday, for a remembrance event marking the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.

The event was part of the “No More Names: National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence” bus tour. The event was sponsored by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Theater shooting survivor Stephen Barton told the crowd that when he rode his bike into Aurora one year ago, he had no idea that he’d be back talking about his own experience with gun violence.

Barton said he and a friend were in the middle of a cross-country bike tour last July.  They had traveled 2,200 miles and were two-thirds of the way from Virginia to San Francisco.

He said they stopped to visit another friend in Aurora and ended up taking her to the movie.

“I have very vivid memories about what happened that night,” he said. “And I don’t think they’ll ever leave me.”

Barton told 7NEWS that he was shot in the face, neck and chest with a shotgun.

He still has some of the scars.

The survivor said that while recuperating, he read about gun violence and gun laws, and then decided to take part in the conversation.

“To me, it makes common intuitive sense that when someone is selling a gun, they should want to know if that buyer has a criminal background, if they’re a domestic abuser or dangerously mentally ill,” he said.

Barton said he’d like to see Congress mandate background checks for all gun sales.

While Barton talked to 7NEWS about the need for sensible gun control, a crowd with a different viewpoint gathered a few hundred yards away.

“To the families and the victims, we offer our condolences and prayers,” said Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. “But to Mayor Bloomberg and to those pushing a political agenda, we offer our opposition.”

Brown said his groups appearance at Cherry Creek State Park “was reactionary.”

“We want to stop those kinds of shootings as well,” he said, “but our solution, rather than banning firearms and personal freedom is that citizens would have the tools of self defense there at theaters.”

Barton said he respects the opposition.

“This is often cast as a black and white debate,” Barton said. “But it’s really not that. There is plenty of common ground for us to find.”

The daughter of slain Columbine High School teacher Dave Sanders also attended the “No More Names” event.

“I am here to stand for every family who knows how many months, days and hours it’s been since their loved one was stolen from them,” Coni Sanders said.

Tom Sullivan was there as well.  He lost his son Alex in the theater massacre.

Sullivan said he no longer thinks of Fridays as the day before the weekend, he thinks of it as the day his son died.

“During the last 52 Fridays, I never asked myself, ‘Why me?’” he said. “I never asked, ‘Why Alex?’  Instead, I try to ask myself, 'What? What can I do so that the pain and heartache that I feel everyday since Alex was taken, don’t have to be felt by other fathers here in the state of Colorado.' ”

After the speeches, volunteers began reading the names of people of people killed across the United States with guns.

Sanders read the names of the students killed at Columbine and choked with emotion as she read her own father’s name.

Carlee Soto read the name of her sister, Victoria, who was killed in the Newtown, Conn., shooting.

Jane Dougherty talked about her sister, Mary Sherlach, who was also killed at Newtown.

And State Rep. Rhonda Fields read the name of her son, Javad Marshall Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, who were gunned down because Javad was going to testify at a murder trial.

The reading of names is slated to continue until 12:38 a.m. Saturday, the exact time of the theater shooting one year ago.

At 12:38 a.m. Saturday -- the time the Aurora theater shootings started,  a moment of silence will be observed.