In this slice of the Rocky Mountains, bloodshed has arrived yet again, renewing passionate debate over whether gun control makes a community safer or places it more at risk.
While mass shootings have become more common all across the country, in Colorado, home to Columbine High School, the Aurora movie theater and, now, a targeted Planned Parenthood clinic, the events resonate with profound power. And in a state neatly divided among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, no one side in the gun debate prevails for long.
Time and again in the wake of these shootings, Democrats demand tougher gun laws, while Republicans call reforms unnecessary and unlikely to stop violence.
Sullivan works with groups including Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Everytown for Gun Safety in calling for stricter gun laws nationwide.
In the months after the theater shooting, he helped Colorado lawmakers, mostly Democrats, push for new laws to impose 15-round limits on ammunition magazines and universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers.
At the time, the debate over the gun bills was so contentious that legislative committee rooms were often filled to capacity. Added security was provided to lawmakers in and around the Capitol.
The legislation became law, but in yet another sign of Colorado’s divided nature over guns, it also led to the ouster of two lawmakers that year, state Sens. John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo, in recall elections. A third state lawmaker chose to resign rather than face a recall election. All three are Democrats.
Laura Carno, a conservative activist from Colorado Springs who led the charge to recall Morse, wants to see a repeal of the state’s new gun laws.
Mourners attend a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church on Nov. 28, 2015, for the victims of the shooting the day before at a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Mourners hold hands at a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church on Nov. 28, 2015, for the victims of the shooting the day before at a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Father Bill Carmody kneels in a pew at a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church on Nov. 28, 2015, for the victims of the shooting the day before at a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
A sign and flowers are placed outside the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus police department door in tribute to UCCS police Officer Garrett Swasey, one of three people killed in a shooting at a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic.(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who praised the police response to the shooting, speaks to reporters on Saturday.(Daniel Owen / (Colorado Springs) Gazette)
Robert Lewis Dear is shown in booking photos from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.(El Paso County Sheriff’s Office )
Ozy Licano describes his encounter with the shooter at a Colorado Springs, Colo., Planned Parenthood on Friday. Licano suffered cuts from a car window’s glass.(Christian Murdock / The Gazette )
Police vehicles block an intersection after a deadly shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic Friday.(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
An officer stands guard near a Planned Parenthood clinic Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo.(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
A woman is escorted to an ambulance near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. At least three people were killed and nine injured.(Justin Edmonds / Getty Images)
An officer waits in the snow near a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., after reports of a shooting Friday.(Brent Lewis / Denver Post)
Emergency personnel move an injured officer near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday.(Andy Cross / Denver Post)
A person is escorted to safety near the scene of a shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday.(Andy Cross / Denver Post)
Officer Garrett Swasey, of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was 44 when he was killed responding to a shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic.(University of Colorado, Colorado Springs)
More than a dozen ambulances were staged about two miles from a Planned Parenthood clinic that was the scene of a shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday.(Kurtis Lee / Los Angeles Times)
“They don’t make anyone safer,” said Carno, citing the Planned Parenthood attack and a separate incident last month in which a man fatally shot three people in Colorado Springs’ downtown corridor.
“These gun laws don’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals, because they’re criminals. … All they do is keep me from being able to buy the firearm of my choice,” she said.
On Saturday, law enforcement officials were still in search of a motive behind the rampage at Planned Parenthood, noting it could take several weeks before the investigation is complete. The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed official Saturday night, reported that Robert Lewis Dear, who surrendered to police, said “no more baby parts” after his arrest.
Police said Dear, 57, had carried a rifle but would not provide further details or say whether the weapon would have been illegal under the state’s new gun laws.
President Obama, in what’s become a refrain after a shooting, called for more gun-control laws.
“This is not normal,” Obama said in a statement Saturday. “We can’t let it become normal. If we truly care about this … we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets.”
While Colorado lawmakers for the most part avoided blunt talk about gun control, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs did stand side by side at a news conference Saturday, vowing not to utter the suspected gunman’s name in public.
But in the past the two men have split over the issue of gun control. Hickenlooper was a staunch supporter of the new gun laws, while Suthers, who recently ended an eight-year term as state attorney general, opposed the measures.
When asked Saturday how he continues to deal with shootings in his state, Hickenlooper said the key is to persevere — and that discussions about preventing more bloodshed can come later.
In 1999, Columbine High School, in a sleepy suburb of Denver, opened America’s eyes to the horrors of a mass shooting when 12 students and one educator were killed. And three years ago, in Aurora, a suburb less than 20 miles from the high school, moviegoers watched as a dozen people were slaughtered at a midnight premiere of a Batman film.
Each of those events brought added pressure to law enforcement and for their family members, including Donovan Ford.
Ford’s father, John Ford, is a 25-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police Department and was one of five officers injured in the Planned Parenthood siege.
“When you have a parent in law enforcement, you never know if they’re going to come home. I’m lucky my dad will be OK. It’s just all-around terrible.”