Survivors of the Aurora theater massacre and families of victims have planned a memorial event around noon on Friday -- an event that has turned into a dual rally for gun control and gun rights.
Beginning Friday afternoon, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Aurora theater mass shooting that killed 12 people and injured another 70, the names of Aurora shooting victims -- as well the names of thousands of other victims of gun violence -- will be read in memorial to them. The reading will continue until 12:38 a.m. on Saturday, July 20, the exact time that the Aurora shooting began in 2012, when the group will hold a moment of silence for the victims and their families.
The remembrance will be joined by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun control group co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, as well as several Newtown families and gun violence prevention advocates. The event is part of Mayors Against Illegal Guns "No More Names" bus tour to reduce gun violence.
“I will forever live with the immense grief that comes with losing a child,” said Tom Sullivan, whose 27-year-old son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater shooting. “Too many people had to bury their loved ones after the massacre in Aurora, and too many Americans continue to see the tragic toll of gun violence each and every day in this country. As we remember my son and the victims of Aurora today, I hope our nation will take meaningful action to protect our families by keeping guns out of the wrong hands – so no more fathers have to experience this anguish.”
But the victims, their families and the members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns will also be joined by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a pro-gun group that will be holding a protest for gun rights during the Aurora memorial. Both the memorial and the protest are scheduled to begin at noon on Friday.
The Associated Press reports that both groups were issued permits for locations at Cherry Creek State Park that are within sight of each other.
Dudley Brown, executive director of RMGO, says that the fact that the memorial was organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns makes it political, not simply a remembrance.
"This is a quick reaction to a political event," said Brown to 7News. "(With) Mayors Against Guns involved, means we have to be involved. If they're going to come with their message of a reduction of freedoms, regulation of a right, we have to present the other side," said Brown.
State Rep. Rhonda Fields called the protest by RMGO a "slap in the face of the people who are suffering the loss of a loved one." Rep. Fields' district includes the Aurora theater where the mass shooting took place in 2012. Fields also backed a package of gun control bills that were signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper earlier this year, including universal background checks and a 15-round limit to ammo magazines. In 2005, Fields' son was shot and killed to keep him from testifying in a murder trial.
Some have compared RMGO's protest actions in support of the 2nd Amendment to that of Westboro Baptist Church, a group that often protests funerals to spread their message of opposition to LGBT rights. Laura Chapin, a Denver-area consultant who works with gun control groups and other progressive causes, told KDVR in no uncertain terms: "RMGO is the Westboro Baptist Church of gun groups."
More on Brown and Mayor Against Illegal Guns' sparring and opposing points of view on the remembrance, via The AP:
Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, denied his group was being insensitive and said his members would be respectful.
He accused Mayors Against Illegal Guns and its founder, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, of politicizing the Aurora massacre to promote gun control.
"Mayor Bloomberg is using this tragedy and walking all over graves to get to the microphone," Brown said.
Bloomberg's organization respects the gun group's constitutional rights to protest and to own firearms, spokesman Kelly Steele said.
"But this is a memorial for Americans murdered with guns, not a pep rally," Steele said. "Their rights aren't in question, but their judgment certainly is."
Brown said other memorials to the Aurora victims have been "wholly appropriate" and his group didn't stage simultaneous rallies.
"But when Mayors Against (Illegal) Guns had decided to dive in and make this a political issue, which they have since the beginning, we decided to dive in," he said.
Brown declined to say whether his group's rally would include speakers but added, "I have no intention to get in a shouting match."
On its website, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners calls itself "Colorado's only no-compromise gun rights organization." Brown declined to say how many members it has.
The remembrance is slated to begin at noon with some remarks and then the victim names reading will begin. Stephen Barton, a survivor of the Aurora shooting, and Tom Sullivan, father of 27-year-old Alex Sullivan who was killed during the Aurora shooting, are expected to be in attendance. Aurora-area faith leaders and family members of victims from the Newtown, Conn. shooting will join Barton and Sullivan as well as Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.