LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) — A lone police cruiser outside Columbine High School was the only outward reaction here Friday to an even deadlier attack at a Connecticut elementary school.
But in a state that was rocked by the 1999 Columbine school massacre and the Aurora movie theater shooting less than six months ago, Friday's shootings renewed debate over why mass shootings keep occurring and whether gun control can stop them.
“Until we get our acts together and stop making these ... weapons available, this is going to keep happening,” said an angry Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the theater shooting last July in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
A work associate of Teves lives in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary. The connection chilled and angered the Colorado man.
The 20-year-old killer, identified by a law enforcement official as Adam Lanza, carried out the attack with two handguns. A high-powered rifle was found in the back of a car. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The shooting has once again stoked the never-ending debate over gun-control laws.
This week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper generated a storm of debate after declaring that it was time to start debating gun-control measures.
After Friday's school shootings, Hickenlooper told reporters there's no use waiting until news coverage fades.
“We can't postpone the discussion on a national level every time there's a shooting. They're too often,” he said.
A visibly emotional President Barack Obama seemed willing to renew debate, calling for “meaningful action” to prevent similar shootings.
Within hours of the shootings, six petitions appeared on the White House's website calling for the president to address issues related to mass shootings. All the petitions had at least 200 signatures; one had garnered more than 5,000. A crowd had gathered outside the White House Friday evening for a vigil.
As the president received briefings about the shooting, his spokesman, Jay Carney, responded to questions about gun control and Obama's campaign promises on the matter: “I don't think today is that day” for such a discussion.
Others, however, said it was.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of greater limits on guns, responded to the president's remarks: “Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before.”
Obama has called for keeping assault weapons off the streets, and the White House has said he still wants Congress to reinstitute a federal ban on military-style assault weapons. But reflecting the difficult politics of gun control, Obama has not pushed for stricter laws, calling for better enforcement of existing laws instead.
Tom Mauser, who became a gun-control advocate after his son Daniel was killed at Columbine, urged officials to stop “playing defense” on gun control.
“Let's not say once again, 'Oh, this is not the right time to talk about it.' It is the right time to talk about it.
“We are better than a nation that has people killing children and has people cowardly shooting people in shopping malls and schools and nursing homes. We're better than this.”
Also Friday, Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during an attack that killed six people in Arizona last year, said the Connecticut shooting should “sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right.”
“This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow and condolence,” Kelly said on his Facebook page, calling for “a meaningful discussion about our gun laws and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America.”
Gun-rights advocates for the most part were mute, with a few exceptions.
“They're going to use the bodies of dead children to push their agenda,” predicted Dudley Brown of the Denver group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
The National Rifle Association, whose lobbying may have influenced Congress' decision to let the assault weapons ban lapse in 2004, did not return a call for comment.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade organization for U.S. gun manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers, has its headquarters in Newtown. It released a statement saying “our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community.”
This report includes material from Hearst Newspapers.
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