In the halls of power, the gun debate will get more personal

There is a growing political caucus in America: people in office whose children have been killed in gun violence.

Tom Sullivan’s son, Alex, was one of the 12 people who died inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012.

You may remember him from this picture I posted the day after.

“Please don’t just say my son died,” Tom tells Robert Sanchez, whose profile appears on 5280. “Alex was not taken. He was not lost. He did not pass away. My son was murdered.”

He got to identify his body on a stainless steel table at the medical examiner’s office.

“He was a purplish color,” he said. “You could only see his head, but I was glad. I knew we could have an open-casket funeral.”

“People were dying because of political inaction,” he told Sanchez. “We didn’t have our son anymore, but nobody learned from it. It was like it didn’t matter.”

So he ran for state Senate in 2016 and lost.

In July, he was in Las Vegas.

These days, Alex’s death is still felt in ways both big and small. Last year, Tom was in Las Vegas with one of his friends when a gunman began shooting at concertgoers from a hotel room on the Strip. The man killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 others—surpassing Aurora for the most gunshot victims in an American mass shooting. (He killed himself before law enforcement agents could apprehend him.) A few miles away, in his hotel room, Tom awoke around 3:30 that morning and saw the news alerts on his phone.

He and his friend went downstairs into the casino where cable news stations ran video of the nighttime shooting on a nonstop loop. He looked around the room, took inventory of the people. He felt the casino’s energy—folks celebrating blackjack wins, the clatter of coins pouring from slot machines. Fewer than five hours earlier, just up the street, dozens of people had been murdered. At that moment, Tom knew victims’ families were preparing to gather at homes. They would be talking about memorial services and funerals and burial plots. Children would soon be waking up to learn they no longer had a parent or an uncle or an aunt. But here, at the latest home of America’s worst mass shooting, it was as though nothing had happened.

When he thought she’d be awake, Tom called Terry. “I’m OK,” he told her. Later that day, Tom drove past the crime scene. He looked up at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooter’s windows were broken out. “People were taking selfies,” Tom remembers. He felt uneasy. Was this what it was like when Alex was murdered? he wondered.

Since then, he’s been running for office again, this time the District 37 seat in the Colorado House. He wants to push a bill that would help family members keep guns out of the hands of people who they think will hurt people.

He won.

“They never wanted to talk to me before,” he says of some of the politicians. “And they’re gonna’ have to talk to me now.”

In Washington, they’ll be talking to Lucy McBath, too. Her son, Jordan Davis, was killed at a Florida gas station in 2012 by a white man who was angry over the loud music Jordan and his friends were playing.

“Absolutely nothing — no politician & no special interest — is more powerful than a mother on a mission,” she said today, shortly after the incumbent representative in the sububan Atlanta district, Rep. Karen Handel, conceded.

Lucy McBath is going to Washington.

(h/t: Nate Minor)

  • >>“They never wanted to talk to me before,” he says of some of the politicians. “And they’re gonna’ have to talk to me now.”<<

    Excellent.

  • The Resistance

    I don’t think I heard a single candidate from either party talk about ways to mitigate the gun violence epidemic during the recent election cycle.

    It sometimes feels like everyone in public life has given up on this and we just lower the flag and repeat the same thoughts and prayers mantra each time. The flag at my office seems half staff more often than not.

    I hope these newly elected officials reopen the conversation. More power to them.

    • BReynolds33

      Yesterday, I saw the flag at half staff, realized why and a thought popped into my head. I wondered… how long before we just make the pole shorter?

      In other words: How long before even that token level of acceptance of what happens disappears?

      No one in politics wants to talk about it. It is a losing issue. And that’s all they care about. Winning and losing.

  • Tyler

    I believe Lucy McBath has Newt Gingrich’s old seat.

  • Gary F

    Look at yesterday’s shooting. He passed a NICS check for his gun. So universal background checks wouldn’t have prevented this. Most of the mass shootings the shooter passed a background check already. Should NICS be improved, yes, but it stalled in congress. WWW. Fixnics.org. Reports say he did use an extended magazine, but he had plenty of time to change out the standard 10 round, or five round, so banning extended magazines wouldn’t have prevented this.

    One thing that most of these events have in common….

    “Survivors from the shooting said he looked ‘like he knew what he was doing’ as he repeatedly fired his gun without saying a word. In April this year, deputies were called to the home he shared with his mother after neighbors heard loud crashes coming from inside.

    He was acting ‘irrationally’ and was ‘irate’ so police called in their mental health specialist but they cleared him, deciding against having him committed. Neighbors told DailyMail.com on Thursday that his mother Colleen was ‘terrified’ he was going to harm himself or others. ”

    We can put more laws on the law abiding, but it won’t make us any safer. But some would get a false sense of security.

    • The Resistance

      I sometimes wonder if the only way gun lovers will change their minds about guns is if someone in their family dies from a gunshot wound.

      It happened to me. I have regular nightmares about it and have for decades.

      I hope it never happens in your family.

      • Jerry

        They will never realize or admit to themselves that owning a gun or having one in their household vastly increases their chance of dying by gun violence, especially if they are a woman.

    • crystals

      It’s unbelievable to me that the same people can throw their hands up in the air when mass murders become a regular occurrence and say gun laws won’t make us any safer while actively discriminating against Muslims because a minuscule fraction of them have committed terrorist acts against America.

      Wait, no. It’s totally believable. It’s just really gross.

      • Gary F

        That’s a big leap.

        • crystals

          How so?

    • kevins

      The anecdote above is an example of how shallow are the calls for keeping firearms out of the hands of “mentally ill” people, and how manipulative the NRA’s position on mental health issues is. If it were that black and white, then a solution could be legislated. It is not that black and white.

    • Jerry

      And I thought gun owners were all about false senses of security. It’s why they buy their guns.

    • jon

      Well if you still have plenty of time to change magazines then there is absolutely no reason to have extended magazines.

      This is a repeated argument that is self defeating… if it makes no difference then no one needs them… (just like how civilization didn’t end when the assault weapons ban was in effect…)

  • Jerry

    Until people start valuing the lives of other people’s children more than their own guns, this is going to keep happening.

    • Gary F

      Evil people will still get them, no matter how many laws you make.

      • The Resistance

        And yet in other countries they dont. Weird.

      • crystals

        Many, many other countries in the world would have a few words to say about that.

        • Gary F

          And still we see mass killings, especially in Jewish areas, all across Europe. And some have switched to trucks running people over.

          • crystals

            Respectfully, please show us your work on this claim.

          • Gary F
          • BJ

            They are using the fully discredited John Lott as the source of information.
            PS you will find he is the source of a lot of data quotes, him and his methods have be been discredited.

          • crystals

            For starters, this opinion piece doesn’t actually say anything about mass killings all over Europe, especially in Jewish areas, or anything about trucks running people over. So I’m neither impressed nor convinced by your source.

            Secondly, my comment says “the world” and the world is not Europe.

          • The Resistance

            That John Lott info was discredited as being misleading long ago. He also argued that safe storage gun laws don’t reduce juvenile suicides. And he’s funded by the Olin Foundation, which is related to the parent company of Winchester .That’s the scientist who’s providing your info. And you didn’t answer Crystal’s question, which tells me you can’t. Nice cut and paste though.

      • Brian Simon

        Perhaps with the right laws, fewer evil people will get them, which seems like a reasonable goal.

        • Gary F

          Like FIXNICS? http://fixnics.org/staterankings.cfm

          Look at that website and go to the states page. How many states don’t or poorly participate in reporting people to the database. Appalling.

          Look who was on board in the US House for this bill. It will blow you away, both sides, lots of well recognized people. BOTH SIDES.

          You want universal background checks? To what? A lousy system that needs improvement? Just a feel good bill unless you FIX NICS.

          It is the most bipartisan step to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people and the current make up of US elected officials don’t have the guts to do it.

          • Gary F

            Fixnics bill of 2017
            Here are the supporters

            HOUSE SUPPORT

            Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28)
            Rep. Elizabeth H. Esty (D-CT-5)
            Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA-31)
            Rep. Ryan A. Costello (R-PA-6)
            Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA-14)
            Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA-2)
            Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-TX-10)
            Rep. Barbara Comstock(R-VA-10)
            Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-1)
            SENATE SUPPORT

            Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
            Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
            Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
            Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT)
            Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
            Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)
            Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
            Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
            Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)
            Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
            Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
            Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-DE)
            Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
            Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-ME)
            Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)
            Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA)
            Sen. Angus S. King (I-ME)
            Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
            Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
            Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)
            Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)
            Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-CO)
            Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
            Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
            Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
            Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
            Sen. James Lankford (R-OK)
            Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
            Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)
            Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
            Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
            Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH)
            Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
            Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)
            Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

          • The Resistance

            That’s exactly one House Republican in the 116th congress (McCaul).

            I’m not exactly blown away.

        • Sonny T

          Well said.

      • Jerry

        Unless you are arguing that gun manufacturers are directly selling weapons to the black markets, “evil people” get their guns from “good people”.

  • TBH

    If you follow these guys on Facebook, you’ll notice the headline in your feed on a fairly regular basis. I sure hope that the “satirical” headline dies someday: https://www.theonion.com/no-way-to-prevent-this-says-only-nation-where-this-r-1830308976

    • Jerry

      It could be put in every issue if they still had a print version

  • Guest

    Sad to say, but somebody who thinks it is a good idea to shoot up a crowd and then kill himself will not be stopped. There are 300 million guns in just the US today, 8 million are AR-15 style.

    If all guns disappeared in a flash, these people would think it was a good idea to drive a truck thru a crowd.

    sigh 🙁

    • theoacme

      So submitting cravenly to the fascism of the NRA is ok? I won’t submit to the NRA, even when its members lynch me and my family as a result. (Notice the NRA’s lack of defense of Philando Castile, that’s sufficient evidence of the NRA being fascist.)

    • Chris

      Well, then at least one of those two problems would be solved. Sigh 🙁

      Keep throwing smoke that this is an issue that should just be left alone for fear that a worse problem would arise. I don’t buy it and your logic
      is false.

    • jon

      Yup and if we start doing nothing about it now then in 50 years nothing will have been accomplished.

      It’s like when in the early 1900’s when we outlawed fully automatic weapons, they were out there already then too, but a law was passed and nearly 100 years later we don’t have any issues with all those Tommy guns killing people…

  • lindblomeagles

    Wonderful story! Keep these coming Bob! First the two guys that started a museum, and now 2 parents taking it upon themselves to change the system! There really is more to life than just sitting on a couch! I wish both parents the very best of luck! They are an inspiration to us all.

  • The Resistance

    As long as I live I’ll never understand how gun advocates can live knowing that so many parents and loved ones will have their hearts broken forever because of other citizens’ desire to be armed to the teeth.

    I think the mother one of the victims said it best.

    “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control” – Susan Orfanos

    • Guest

      I do not want to be flippant, but they live much like owners of stolen trucks live. They know deaths were not caused by property but by a willingness to kill.

      Gun deaths are suicide, crime, mass shooting. Suicide and mass shooting will not be stopped by any law. Criminals do not fear having an illegal gun today. Gun advocates DO want that changed.

      Many rural households have a gun, yet few are worried about gun violence. It is the willingness to commit a crime, not the gun that is the cause.

      With 300 million guns in the US today, even a total ban on sales would not stop someone who thinks it is a good idea to kill with a gun.