Lawmakers, survivors laud gun violence prevention headway on anniversary of theater shooting

jason crow
Posted at 3:28 PM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 23:39:25-04

DENVER — Congressman Jason Crow and Rep. Tom Sullivan were joined by gun violence prevention advocates and a survivor of the Aurora theater shooting to talk about the next steps after President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan gun violence prevention bill last month.

Crow, the Democratic congressman who represents Aurora, and Sullivan, the Democratic state representative whose son, Alex, died in the 2012 theater shooting, spoke along with Jenalise Long, a theater shooting survivor who works with the Veterans Affairs Commission in Aurora, and Jayla Hemphill, a Colorado representative of Students Demand Action about 12 hours before the 10th anniversary of the shooting that left 12 people dead and 70 injured.

They all applauded Biden’s signing last month of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was the first major piece of gun safety legislation passed in decades and includes a bolstered National Instant Criminal Background Check System for young adults, the closing of the “boyfriend loophole,” and funding for states to implement mental and health programs and red flag laws.

“The bill will make a big difference and will save lives, but it’s not the last step – it’s the first step,” Crow said. “And there’s much more to be done.”

After rattling off a list of Colorado’s mass shootings, Crow said it was “unacceptable what we’ve allowed to happen within America and our community” and that it was a key reason he ran for Congress to try to end the cycle of Americans living in fear and with trauma from shootings.

Sullivan, D-Centennial, said he would mark the anniversary at midnight tonight by staying home with his granddaughter. Wednesday would have been Alex Sullivan’s 37th birthday, and it will be his mother’s 94th. Sullivan said his mother would be at tonight’s vigil with his wife and daughter.

Lawmakers, survivors laud gun violence prevention headway on anniversary of theater shooting

“I’ll be home babysitting my granddaughter Molly, who will never get to meet her uncle Alex,” Sullivan said. “I’ll probably be telling her some stories about him as we sit through the night.”

Sullivan also talked about the changes lawmakers have made in Colorado over the past 10 years, saying his presence in the legislature and that of others who support gun violence reform have been key for the state – including Gov. Jared Polis signing the red flag law sponsored by Sullivan, as well as the bill that he sponsored that led to the creation of the Office of Gun Violence Protection.

Sullivan said he plans to run a bill next session he discussed this year as well to raise the age from 18 to 21 in Colorado that people would need to be in order to purchase assault-style weapons, as increasing numbers of mass shooters nationwide are men in that age group.

As to the 10th anniversary, which the 7/20 Memorial is marking Tuesday night, and again this weekend, Sullivan said the victims and their families would be leaning on one another.

“This is a tough day. I knew it was coming. I hope that all of the other survivors and victims have the ability to get through the day. We’re all in this together,” Sullivan said. “We all have one another to lean on. I appreciate everybody taking this time to remember all 12 of the people who were murdered that day and the 70 others who were injured, and the countless thousands who were impacted and have to figure out a way to get through each and every day.”

Hemphill, a Carnegie Mellon University student who represents Students Demand Action in both Colorado and Pennsylvania, called last month’s new bipartisan law “incredibly important,” especially for increasing awareness about how red flag laws work and the mental health aspects of it.

“Alongside the right to live is the right to bear arms, which should also be upheld. We can protect that right and protect people, and that is unmistakably what this aims to do,” she said. “…There is still so much work to do, and it won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.”

Jenalise Long, a commissioner at the Aurora Veterans Affairs Commission who survived the theater shooting, spoke about her work at the commission and trying to address veterans’ biggest concerns surrounding guns – the accessibility of them and the availability of mental health resources.

She said she recounts the moments of the shooting most days and has worried about her children going to school, as they recently became old enough to do so, and said having to undergo such a tragedy as the shooting is something she would not wish on anybody.

She said the bipartisan bill signed last month was “huge” and that she was happy that parts of Crow’s Firearm Retailer Code of Conduct Act were included in the measure, which she said would help gun retailers identify possible threats before they are able to purchase weapons.

“I’ve regained some sense of hope that there will be far fewer mass shootings due to these bills and that we’ll have more gun reform in the future,” she said.

The group said that though they would like to see more done in the gun violence prevention realm, they would take passage of the bill last month last month and other baby steps to move the ball forward. Sullivan said that people’s protests and votes were working: “A person like myself wouldn’t have gotten elected 10 years ago,” he said. “Continue to vote and let your representatives know what you want them to do by calling them, emailing them, texting them – whatever it takes.”

“Well over 70% of people support these types of measures,” Crow added. “It’s because of folks like Jayla, Jenalise, and others — that get out, that march, that protest, that push elected officials, that only support those who are willing to push on the issue — that has made a big difference.”

Hemmphill said that Americas need to get past the blind acceptance of gun violence and move forward with gun legislation so more laws can be passed. And Crow ended the news conference by pledging to do more.

“This is a tragic anniversary, and we will continue to push hard on this to make sure that the losses of our loved ones in our community are not in vain, and that we prevent other people from having to go through the same,” he said.