On July 20, 2013 survivors of gun violence will again stand together in Aurora, Colorado to remember their loved ones and reflect on a year that saw the reinvigoration of a national debate on gun control; sparked death threats from opponents; saw the passage of new state laws; and inspired recall elections that The Denver Post has called “wrongheaded” and “an abuse of the political process.”
It’s been a long year for survivors, lawmakers and advocates alike:
● On July 20, 2012 at approximately 12:38 a.m. A gunman enters a darkened Aurora theater at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises carrying several high capacity semi-automatic guns and opens fire on the crowd, killing twelve and wounding fifty-eight. At 12:46 a.m. officers on the scene confront the suspect, James Holmes, in the parking lot outside the theater and take him into custody.
● July 22, 2012. The evening after the shooting, a candlelight vigil is held to commemorate the lives of the victims:
|● Jonathan Blunk, age 26
● Alexander J. Boik, age 18
● Jesse Childress, age 29
● Gordon Cowden, age 51
● Jessica Ghawi, age 24
● John Larimer, age 27
|● Matt McQuinn, age 27
● Micayla Medek, age 23
● Veronica Moser-Sullivan, age 6
● Alex Sullivan, age 27
● Alexander C. Teves, age 24
● Rebecca Wingo, age 32
Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter also calls for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.
● July 23, 2012. James Holmes makes his first court appearance where he’s read his rights and appointed a public defender.
● July 25, 2012. President Barack Obama visits wounded survivors in the hospital and orders flags at government buildings to be flown at half-staff.
● July 30, 2012. Colorado prosecutors file formal charges against Holmes that include 24 counts of first degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder.
● August 8, 2012. Public Policy Polling releases a poll which shows that Colorado voters “overwhelmingly support a renewal of the assault weapons ban, 58-35. 52% of independents, 84% of Democrats, and even 38% of Republicans support that.”
● August 9, 2012. Holmes’ attorneys say their client is mentally ill and that they need more time to assess the nature of his illness.
● September 17, 2012. The Gun Issues Working Group—a broad coalition led by female state legislators—meets for the first time to discuss possible gun violence prevention measures that include:
○ Closing the private sales loophole on background checks
○ Improving mental health checks for gun sales
○ Limits on high capacity magazines
The legislators leading the push for gun safety legislation include Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), whose son was murdered with a gun in 2005, and Rep. Beth McCann (D-Denver) who served as Denver’s public safety manager during the 1993 “Summer of Violence.”
● December 13, 2012. Governor John Hickenlooper declares, ahead of Colorado’s 2013 legislative session, that the “time is right” to have a conversation about “large magazines.”
● December 14, 2012. The tragic shooting of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut occurs that morning and happens to coincide with the final meeting of The Gun Issues Working Group tasked with drafting gun safety legislation in Colorado.
● December 21, 2012. Five months and one day after the Aurora shooting, and exactly a week to the day after the Newtown shooting, Rep. Fields stands with Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora), Rep. McCann and fellow survivors of gun violence to formally announce that the Colorado General Assembly will take on gun safety legislation in 2013.
● January 7, 2013. Holmes returns to court where 9-1-1 recordings and videos from the Cineplex are presented as evidence. Holmes’ defense team maintains that he is mentally ill.
● January 20, 2013. A poll commissioned by The Denver Post finds that “83% of Coloradans say they support a state and/or a federal law that requires a background check on anyone who buys a gun, including gun buyers who purchase from a private seller” and “62% of Coloradans…support a law to restore a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.”
● February 7, 2013 to March 19, 2013. Bills to close the private sales loophole on background checks as well as limits on high capacity magazines are introduced to the Colorado State Legislature as part of a package of comprehensive gun safety reform bills brought by Democrats.
● February 12, 2013. President Barack Obama declares in his State of the Union address to Congress, “The families of Aurora deserve a vote.” That same evening the Colorado House Committee on Judiciary votes 7-4 in favor of limits on high capacity magazines and 7-4 in favor of background checks on private gun transfers.
● February 25, 2013. Fox31 and 9News report that during the floor debate on the bills, Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) and Rep. Fields receive death threats because of their support for gun safety measures. A single suspect, Franklin Sain, is arrested for threats against Rep. Fields. In a March 4 statement reported by 7News, Sain’s attorney claims that Sain was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.
Quickly following passage of both background checks and limits on high capacity magazines in the Colorado State House, a recall petition is initiated against Rep. Mike McLachlan (D-Durango) for his votes on gun safety legislation. Recall petitions against Sen. Evie Hudak (D-Westminster), Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) quickly follow their votes in the Senate.
March 4, 2013. former U.S. Rep.Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, testifies before Colorado’s Senate State Affairs committee in favor of background checks on private gun sales. Patricia Maisch, who helped to tackle the Tucson shooter who shot Rep. Giffords, testifies before Colorado’s Senate Judiciary committee in favor of limits on high capacity magazines.
Opposing gun safety legislation, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa of Colorado Springs accuses Colorado Senate President John Morse of attempting to extort Sheriffs’ support with a separate funding bill and refuses to uphold the law should the legislature pass gun safety bills. Sheriffs in Weld and Larimer Counties follow suit. It is later revealed that several Colorado Sheriffs signed pledges in opposition to gun safety legislation in exchange for the financial support of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners—an organization whose lobbyist was required to answer ethics charges brought by a Republican lawmaker in the 2013 legislative session.
● March 20, 2013. In the presence of Aurora and Newtown survivors, Governor Hickenlooper signs three gun safety bills.
○ Background checks on private gun transfers
○ Fees for background checks
○ Limits on high capacity magazines
Magazines are limited to fifteen rounds with exceptions that grandfather ownership of high capacity magazines already in circulation. The magazine bill also allows the manufacture of magazines of more than 15 rounds in Colorado as a concession to magazine manufacturer, Magpul. Magpul, which according to Fox31 had been exploring tax incentives in other states as early as the summer of 2012, decides to leave Colorado anyway.
● March 27, 2013. Holmes’s attorneys say he would be willing to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. Prosecutors dismiss the offer as a ploy.
● April 1, 2013. Prosecutors announce they will seek the death penalty for Holmes in a trial to start in February 2014.
● April 3, 2013. President Barack Obama visits Colorado to highlight Colorado’s successful gun safety campaign.
● April 10, 2013. The Hill reports that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) have reached a compromise gun deal that includes background checks on commercial gun sales.
● April 17, 2013. The Washington Post reports that the Manchin-Toomey background checks amendment failed on a vote of 54-46, falling short of the 60 votes needed to move forward. Patricia Maisch, a hero of the Tucson shooting, who supports the amendment, is escorted out of the U.S. Capitol when she reacts to the failure of the amendment by yelling “shame on you.”
● May 7, 2013. Holmes’ attorneys file their intent to change their plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.
● May 17, 2013. 54 Colorado Sheriffs file suit in U.S. District Court claiming that Colorado’s new gun safety laws “severely restrict citizens’ rights to own, use, manufacture, sell, or transfer firearms and firearms accessories.” Gov. Hickenlooper files a motion requesting an injunction that would legally bind state enforcement of limits on high capacity magazines to technical guidance issued by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.
● May 21, 2013. McLachlan recall petitioners fail to turn in the required number of signatures to place Rep. McLachlan’s name on a special election ballot. Recall petitioners in Sen. Hudak’s district also fail to turn in the required number of signatures to place her name on a special election ballot.
● June 6, 2013. Weld County Commissioners Sean Conway and Doug Rademacher of Greeley “float“ a secession plan for northeastern Colorado citing differences over “oil and gas, gun control, transportation and agriculture” as impetus for the proposal.
● June 18, 2013. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler certifies 10,137 signatures out of more than 16,000 turned in. A week later, Gessler disqualifies fewer than 1,000 signatures in the recall campaign against Senator Giron, certifying 93.9% of the signatures turned in as valid.
● July 3, 2013. A decision regarding the legitimacy of recall petition language for both Senate President Morse and Senator Giron is issued from Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert. Staiert finds against recall protesters in spite of constitutional language which requires that petitions “demand the election of a successor.”
● July 7, 2013. The attorneys representing James Holmes admit he was the shooter inside the Century 21 Theatre.
● July 10, 2013. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the high-capacity magazine ban and the background check law reach an agreement with the Governor’s office, effectively dropping their assertion that the law limiting high-capacity magazines to 15 rounds is vague and unenforceable.