AURORA, Colo.—Speakers at a vigil marking the one-year anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting urged lawmakers to approve tougher firearms laws while gun-rights supporters watched from the wings.
Several relatives of shooting victims spoke at a press conference at Cherry Creek State Park before participants in Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ “No More Names” campaign began reading the names of people who died after being shot in the past year.
“We cannot afford to sit idly by as more and more of our loved ones are killed with guns,” said Jane Dougherty, whose sister was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. “Please join me in demanding that our elected officials have the courage to lead and pass the Gun Violence Prevention Bill.”
Stephen Barton, who was shot in the face and chest in the July 20 Aurora theater shooting, said “thousands of people are murdered with a gun every single year.”
“Not only that, but we have loopholes in our laws that enable that sort of error and we don’t do a good job of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” said Mr. Barton. “I really hope we can honor the people we lost today and try to move forward the best we can.”
Meanwhile, several dozen gun-rights advocates stood quietly about 50 feet away in a fenced-off “spectator area” monitored by Colorado State Patrol officers.
Tina Griffiths of Denver, who carried a homemade “You Can’t Have CO’s Guns” sign, said she attended the event both to show support for the victims of the Aurora shooting and to stand up for gun owners.
“In part, I’m here for them,” said Tina Griffiths of Denver, referring to the victims’ relatives. “How can we not have sympathy for the victims’ families? They lost someone they loved.”
At the same time, she said, “just because they [the killers] had a gun doesn’t make the rest of us criminals.”
Several speakers blamed “gun violence” for the deaths of their family members, which Jeff Gunn of Colorado Springs said wasn’t entirely accurate.
“No, they were killed by crazy people,” said Mr. Gunn. “What they’re not saying is that all those people passed background checks, except the Sandy Hook shooter, who stole his guns.”
The vigil was scheduled to continue until 12:38 a.m. Saturday, marking the start of the Aurora shooting that left 12 dead and 58 injured during the midnight premier of “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Century 16 theater.
Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex Sullivan was killed in the massacre, said he became active in the state’s gun debate this year by testifying before the Colorado state legislature, which approved three gun-control bills in March.
“I decided that when the debate started here in Colorado on some common-sense answers to gun violence, I could go to the state capitol and listen to what was being said,” said Mr. Sullivan. “I could stand in line to testify in favor of new laws that I hoped would make my community safer.”
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had lobbied in favor of the bills, which became a sore point among Colorado gun owners. Several gun-rights ralliers blamed Mr. Bloomberg for pushing an East Coast agenda on a Western state with a culture of gun ownership.
The organization launched a 25-city, 100-day “No More Names” bus tour in June, but came under criticism last month for including the names of several suspected murderers, including Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Los Angeles cop killer Christopher Dorner, in the names of those killed by gun violence.
The group apologized for including Tsarnaev’s name last month, saying in a statement, “[I]t should not have happened, and we sincerely apologize.”