One Colorado Man’s Crusade Against Gun Violence

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S1: The House will come to order.

S2: How do you respond when a tragedy seems to repeat itself over and over again? Please join me in the Pledge of Allegiance. Tuesday morning, the day after a man walked into a grocery store in Boulder and killed 10 people, the General Assembly in Colorado had to figure that out. Representative Hootin. The representatives from Boulder were some of the first to speak members yesterday.

S3: My beloved alternative was to run, and now we know that this never in her community.

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S2: This session got surprisingly raw, politicians broke down as they spoke when it got to be too much for one of them, a pair of women appeared at the representative side propping her up.

S3: We are a peaceful community outside of shenanigans from students sometimes. And I honestly write in King Superstates where those students shop.

S2: One representative, it sounded like she just learned that she knew one of the victims.

S4: Yeah, the names that just come out, they had they had a press conference at 830. We were on the floor at nine o’clock.

S2: Tom Sullivan was one of the representatives who spoke.

S1: Representative Sullivan. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

S2: A shooting like the one in Boulder is how Tom ended up in the General Assembly in the first place.

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S1: Every morning when I get ready to leave the house, I reach in the closet, I grab Alex’s jacket. Where that in with me.

S2: Tom son Alex died in 2012, a victim of the Aurora movie theater shooting. He knows what happens now. Moments of silence, names read aloud.

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S1: All of a sudden, you’re your brother, sister, your mom and dad, all of a sudden they’re their names are going to be read off, their pictures are going to be in the paper. Someone’s going to ask you what they were like. Those people are going to do the same thing that I did this morning. They’re going to start looking through their closets and their drawers and looking for something they can hold on to because they had no idea that sending somebody to the grocery store was going to end up the way that it did.

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S2: Some people talk about being triggered by events like these because they’ve been through something and it just brings all those memories back as a politician, does it feel different to you when you wake up and you’re dealing with awful news like this?

S4: Yeah, and there’s there’s a different there’s a different level of anger that I have. I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Avengers and stuff. There’s one character, the Hulk, and there is a phase in between when he is going from the calm, collected professor to the raging monster where he’s in between being a human and being a monster. And that’s where I find myself. I am I am I am stuck between there. I continue to lose daily my connection with the person that I was before the day Alex was murdered. And I find myself moving to that, you know, that that other kind of rage.

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S2: That person sounds more innocent than you are now.

S4: Oh, absolutely. I mean, he was he was naive. I didn’t I didn’t know.

S2: Today on the show, as Colorado recovers from another mass shooting, there will be more family members like Tom left behind. And that rage, so many of them feel it’s only going to get stronger. So what does an activist turned politician do now? I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. After his son Alex was murdered, Tom’s family wanted to protect him. His daughter clicked off the television. They didn’t go to any of the public memorials for Alex or the other victims. But soon enough, Tom started channeling his grief into political action hit show up at the state capitol, lobbying for gun control legislation. Advocates like him got three minutes to plead their case. No more. No less.

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S4: Yeah, I mean, and then that’s what they give you, the time you and you get three minutes and, you know, then you when the the voting is all over, you have to kind of hope that maybe, you know, the legislators will come over and speak to you or they will stop and and talk to you or, you know, you try to make an appointment with them. That doesn’t always happen. And I mean, again, that’s the reason I’m here. I never get to talk to my legislators. I mean, I testified in front of them. They wouldn’t even acknowledge me while I was testifying. And they were voting for things to try to repeal the high capacity magazines. They were voting to repeal the background checks that we had here. And I would sit right there in front of them telling Alex’s story, knowing that he grew up in the neighborhood that that they represent and they would refuse to acknowledge me. And OK, you can go and do that. Ignore me as long as much as you want. And I ended up, you know, running against them and defeat them.

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S2: That must have felt a little bit satisfying.

S4: It’s difficult to say, I mean, that that I get any satisfaction from from any of this work down here, this is it’s just work. It’s just what needs to be done.

S2: Tom was elected in 2018 and he was open about the fact that his top priority was gun control only he didn’t like calling it that to start.

S4: I never speak about gun control. I’m talking about gun violence prevention. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to control anybody. I’m not trying to take anything away from anybody. What I’m trying to do is make those people who have their firearms to to use them responsibly and to realize that their expertise that they have with their firearm isn’t the same as the next person, that there is a difference between how they handle it and somebody else handles it.

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S2: Tom’s hedging here. It might have something to do with Colorado’s political climate. When state legislators passed tougher gun control after the Aurora shooting, they paid a price to state senators found themselves facing recall elections. They lost their jobs. In spite of that, Tom’s first legislative priority was passing what’s called a red flag law. It’s also known as an extreme risk protection order bill. These kinds of laws allow worried family members or law enforcement to take firearms away from people they’re concerned about. And that bill, it passed. So this this law. When you passed it, you became a target, Republicans and gun advocates began going after you saying they were going to recall you, right?

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S4: You know, I’ve been highlighted for them since, you know, after after the thoughts and prayers and the vigils and the memorials after Alex was was was murdered. That’s your kind of comfort zone where everybody is supportive of you and then went when that closes and you stand up against, you know, and you are going to start to state an opinion about something, then that’s where the division starts. Yes. In that case, I did get recalled and we were the first state legislator in the state to defeat a recall. And we then you have 60 days in which to get X number of signatures. They gave up after twenty nine days because they knew that it wasn’t going to happen.

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S2: I wonder to you, is that evidence at all that the conversation in Colorado is changing, that something that was verboten? You know, a decade ago is not so verboten now.

S4: Oh, absolutely. And I mean, yeah, things are changing. I mean, you know, as I say, I ran on that when we knocked over sixty thousand doors. And the conversation we would have at the doors would be if I get elected, the first thing I am going to do is run an extreme risk protection order. And that’s exactly what we did. And it passed. And then, you know, then they recalled me. And when we went back to knock on those doors during the recall, I said, you know, that’s what I told you I was going to do. They said, yeah, you’re absolutely right, Tom. We’re not going to sign that petition. We want you to continue what it is you said you were going to do.

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S2: You know, I was looking at some of the data on how Colorado’s gun laws compare to other states. And to me, Colorado seems like it’s pretty middle of the road, like there are background checks and certain people can’t have firearms, people who are felons or have a protective order against them. There’s a red flag law that you passed. I wonder what it means to you that there’s some number of gun restrictions already in place. But shootings like the one this week are still happening.

S4: It means that we still have have work to do. I mean, none of these collectively, collectively, the things that we do are effective and those save lives. We’ve that where I don’t live in a world where I believe that there’s a law that we can pass that will stop this.

S2: That’s so interesting that you say that, because that’s like your whole job to to pass laws, to stop things. But you’re saying like that can’t be the only answer.

S4: Well well, it’s with any of these with any of the big changes that our society has gone through. We’re still fighting civil rights. We passed civil rights laws, but we’re still fighting it. We’re still fighting of voting rights. Women still aren’t being treated the way that that they should be treated. We’ve been fighting that all of this time. That doesn’t mean we stop. That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to advocate for civil rights and voting rights and women’s rights and victims rights. We’re going to continue to do that. We’ll be back

S2: after a break. So Democrats lead the General Assembly in Colorado and you also have a Democratic governor, but your state has also seen politicians suffer pretty grave consequences for putting forward gun control legislation. And I’m mindful of the fact that Colorado is the home of Representative Lauren Bobert, who’s she’s made her whole career on being an advocate for gun rights and has said she’ll carry a gun on to the floor of the House. Do you think this shooting is going to change any of the political calculations for some of your colleagues who might have been wary of supporting gun control in the past?

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S4: Well, no, I don’t think so. I mean, we have changed. I mean, we defeated not only did we did I defeat a recall, three state senators defeated a recall that that’s not going to be in their playbook anymore. The issue of gun violence prevention in Colorado is something that we can talk about and something that we can win elections on. I won an election. Jason Crowe beat Michael. Mike Coffman talking about gun violence prevention.

S2: Hmm, I was thinking about your red flag law and how, you know, it’s being reported that the shooter here had a history with police, but, you know, no one intervened and tried to prevent him from getting a gun. And in Colorado, sheriffs actually said they would refuse to enforce your red flag law. How do you think about dealing with something like that when you’re in the legislature trying to. Get these rules out there and then dealing with local municipalities that may just flat out refuse to enforce the rules that you’re making,

S4: see the park with that, the sheriffs who actually said, yeah, you know what? We’re. And they did their communities, their their counties designated them a Second Amendment, sanctuary counties, whatever exactly that means. And but they made a big production about that. And the sheriff said, yeah, we’re not going to enforce this. We could take a look in Weld County. This guy is running all of his political career on standing up against any of the gun legislation here in the state of Colorado. They’re their county is the fourth highest county for extreme risk protection orders. OK, this is the exact same person when it comes down to doing what needs to be done to save somebody’s life and to keep a firearm out of the hands of someone who is they deemed as a dangerous person to themselves or others. They do what they should do and they file those petitions. Those firearms get removed. Those people and the people they care about, you know, are going to live for another day and that person is going to get the help that they need.

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S2: So you’re saying that this is for show?

S4: I don’t know. You’d have to ask them. I when I when I tell you something, you can believe what I told you, OK? Why they say what they say? I have no idea. That’s one of the things I struggle with sitting here listening, you know, and I listened intently when these people are debating issues. And I just can’t understand. Is that something you really believe or are you just saying that for a sound bite so that you can raise some money off it and get yourself re-elected the next time?

S2: You know, in the wake of this latest shooting in Boulder, I heard a lot about the fact that Boulder itself had tried to ban assault weapons a number of years ago. And a judge overturned that law just a few days before the shooting. And to me, it made me angry and it seemed ironic. But I wonder a little bit if you see it differently, like if the city of Boulder shouldn’t even be been in the position to be passing its own assault weapons ban in the first place. A small municipality, right?

S4: I mean, yeah. I mean, there again, there was the case. They can, you know, do something in their municipality. But I mean, that guy apparently lived, you know, 20 miles away from Boulder. So the municipality that he lived in would have allowed the shooter whatever he wanted, OK? And he could have carried that in to Boulder, you know, to to do what he wanted.

S2: Yeah. And your governor has pointed out the fact that doing anything at the state level, you know, residence in Colorado can easily get to Wyoming or Utah. And there are very different laws there. And that’s why he said it’s really necessary for there to be action at the at the federal level instead of state by state.

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S4: What we need is the federal government to get on board with an assault ban. They need to begin having that conversation. We need President Biden and, you know, Senator Bennett and Senator Hickenlooper to start having that conversation, if that is, in fact, you know, what the people of the state of Colorado want.

S2: I wonder if you think at all about whether mass shootings like this one. What they do for the larger push for gun control, because gun control, you’ve said it yourself, it’s not just about these mass shooting events, although they’re terrible and they harm so many people. You know, so many people die of suicide by guns. Police shootings are often instigated by fears that someone has a weapon. And so I wonder when you try to talk about the issue of gun control holistically, whether you find that can sometimes be difficult because we get stuck thinking about these big events that stick with us.

S4: When we have the large incidents like we had in Boulder on Monday, what that does is it activates different people for many different reasons. I mean, I tell the story. We didn’t have a moms demand action chapter in the city of Aurora until after the Parkland shooting, and that was nearly five years after the Aurora theater massacre. They hold meetings just down the street from the theater, yet nobody in that city decided to put together a chapter to do something about gun violence prevention. It wasn’t until they were motivated by the Parkland School one. This is the same thing that’s going to be happening today. There’s going to be see grads and other parts of the country who are going to say that’s enough, because I remember shopping at that store. I remember living down the street from there. They’re doing that in my hometown or where I went to school. And they’re going to start contacting their congressmen and their state senators and their public officials to do something about the crisis of gun violence in the United States.

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S2: What a guiding motivation, though, I mean, as a survivor of a mass shooting, you must ask yourself, why do we keep needing more motivation?

S4: I am acceptant of whenever it is you can join in on this crusade, this journey, this fight that that I am in day after day after day. I will accept you at any point, for whatever reason it is. You want to join the long because it’s going to take all of us. To bring these numbers down and to save the lives that need to be saved here in the United States, we don’t have to live like this. Other countries don’t live like this. We’re not angrier. We’re not you know, we don’t have a worse, you know, drinking problem or whatever the other things are of just like the other people around the world

S2: only we have a lot more guns.

S4: We have a lot more guns.

S2: Representative Tom Sullivan, I’m so grateful for you joining us.

S4: Thank thank you for having me.

S2: Tom Sullivan serves in the Colorado House of Representatives. And that is the show, although before we go, I have a quick correction to make on Monday when I was speaking with a reporter about the shootings in Georgia last week, we ended up implying that what took place at a series of massage parlors in Atlanta constituted the first mass shooting in the state of Georgia. Sadly, we were wrong about that. A listener wrote in to tell us about another mass shooting more than 20 years ago. Thanks for the close. Listen, Marianne, we really appreciate it. What next is produced by Alan Schwarz, Danielle Hewitt, Davis Land, Mary Wilson and Carmel Dilshad, we are led by Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. Stay tuned to this feed tomorrow. Lizzie O’Leary will be here with what next TBD. That’s our Friday show. Have a great weekend.