Gun Control Advocate: Shootings in Colorado Show How Violence Has 'Swept Across Society'
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in Colorado. At least 14 people have been killed and more than 50 wounded in a massive shooting at a movie theater outside of Denver. A gunman wearing a gas mask and bulletproof vest set off what appeared to be a smoke bomb before opening fire at random. Police say the suspect is in custody and that he’s believed to have acted alone.
The attack came at a screening of the new Batman film in the Denver suburb of Aurora. Ten people reportedly died at the scene, and four later succumbed to their injuries in the hospital. A number of the wounded are in critical condition. It was the worst mass shooting in the U.S. since the killings of 32 people at Virginia Tech five years ago.
Police said they seized a handgun and rifle from the gunman, who reportedly surrendered without resistance. He has not been identified but is believed to be in his early twenties.
The shootings have called to mind the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, 25 miles away. Twelve students and a teacher were killed in a mass shooting spree by two students there in 1999.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has issued a statement pledging support for the victims of the Aurora shooting and saying he and Michelle Obama are shocked and saddened by the shooting.
For more on this breaking story, we go to Denver, Colorado. We’re joined by Mary Kershner. She’s a registered nurse, a gun control advocate, founding member of Nurses Advocating Gun Safety. She has lost three members of her family to gun violence, two in suicide.
Mary Kershner, welcome to Democracy Now! Now, we know this news is just breaking. It happened hours ago. It was the midnight premier of the Batman movie. And so, people are just trying to deal with this catastrophe in Aurora. Can you respond, please? I know we woke you up with the news.
MARY KERSHNER: Well, thank you very much, and, yes—and I apologize. I’m probably going to get emotional. And I’m shaking. I just can’t believe this is happening. And I think this is an example where the—this affects the entire community. And as I’m watching the reports and I’m seeing all the hospitals in the entire area, you know, accepting victims, this is an example where, you know, gun violence just sweeps across the society, because even—I first got involved in this when I was an emergency room nurse, you know, 30 years ago, and so this is not just a knee-jerk thing for me. This—I’m just thinking, if I’m shaking and I’m here safely in my home, I can only imagine everybody that’s being impacted by this now. And it’s just so devastating for the victims and their families.
AMY GOODMAN: You have family in Aurora?
MARY KERSHNER: I do, I do. As a matter of fact, I have attended that theater many times. It’s probably only three miles from my home in Denver.
AMY GOODMAN: You have been fighting for gun control for quite some time. Talk about your own family and what you think needs to happen. Again, we have very little information, except that the gunman, it is believed—he’s believed to be white, about 24 years old. This is just the news reports, because he is in custody.
MARY KERSHNER: Yes. Well, as I mentioned, I got involved long before I experienced gun violence in my own family. As an emergency room nurse, I saw victims of this, and it just—it’s such a senseless thing, especially assault weapons. To think that one individual could go into a movie theater and kill 14 people and injure 50, including three-month-old children, I mean, this is just—I just can’t express the words. It’s devastating.
In my case, as I said, I was already involved in gun safety issues before this happened, but my aunt, who was killed in a murder-suicide, you know, by her husband, her last words to my sister was that—she said, "Oh, he would never hurt me." So this is—you know, this is one of those things where guns can be so instantaneous and so lethal. You know, there’s just no turning back. And it was a split decision on the part of, you know, her husband to shoot and kill. And he, I’m sure—that’s why he took his own life: he had remorse afterwards. But, you know, that—we still have—you know, I have cousins without their mother and father, because of one split-second decision, senseless decision, on his part.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Mary Kershner, I’d like to ask you, this issue of these mass attacks by gunmen are almost like endemic and unique, really, to the United States. I recall nearly 30 years ago, back in 1984, the—one of my first national stories was James Huberty walking into a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California, killing about—I think it was 21 people and wounding another 40. And we’ve had so many of these—the Virginia Tech shooting—over the years. You’ve, Colorado, experienced Columbine. Did the state do anything after the Columbine shootings to have any kind of controls on guns within the state?
MARY KERSHNER: We actually did, and I was involved in that. In 2000, we passed a background check, you know, which they’re trying to challenge now, but we were—because of that, in the case of Columbine, you know, those gunmen got their purchases illegally through somebody else. And so, they—you know, we made—we made efforts to have background checks done. It’s helping. We certainly—I mean, it’s hard to keep statistics on how many people we kept from being killed. I mean, it’s hard—you know, it’s difficult to do that. But any effort to try to keep these assault weapons off the street is an important one, because—you’re right—there’s just way too many mass killings in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Mary, I want to turn to Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates. He spoke a short time ago. This is a part of what he said.
POLICE CHIEF DAN OATES: Witnesses tell us that he released some sort of canister, that they heard a hissing sound, and that gas emerged, and that we know that the gunman opened fire. Now, I’m saying a gunman, because, as of right now, we only know of one gunman. OK? And we have no evidence of any additional shooters. Police officers responded and found the gunman in the back of the theater, outside in the parking lot, near a car, in possession of a gas mask and at least a rifle and a handgun. There are additional—was at least one additional weapon was found inside. The shooting apparently went on for some time. As of right now, we have approximately 50 who were hit, and we have 14 dead.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Aurora police chief, Dan Oates, speaking just a little while ago. And now the Denver Post — we’re checking online — is saying 12 dead, down from 14. I’m also looking at the Tanner Gun Show website, made famous around the country by Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine, Columbine not 25 miles from where this shooting has taken place at the cinema in Aurora. Mary Kershner, the gun show is going to be opening in a couple weeks in Denver. What’s the significance of the Tanner Gun Show?
MARY KERSHNER: Well, that’s a great example of the—with regulations, you can only go so far, and oftentimes they pride themselves on doing everything on the level, when in reality, you know, I think even Michael Moore documented where they could oftentimes—some of the sales occur out in the parking lot. And I, for one, don’t even go near it. I mean, we’ve contemplated at different times protesting and stuff, and it’s like—I actually—I’ve been in some confrontations at some of our peaceful things, when we’ve done, you know, like the silent march on our state capitol, where we bring shoes of victims, and we have these gun rights people that are shouting obscenities at us and offering to rape us. And so, I just have no comment, I guess, on these gun shows. They happen. That’s all I can say.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mary Kershner, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Mary Kershner, registered nurse, gun control advocate, founding member of Nurses Advocating Gun Safety, lost three family members to guns. Two were suicide. And we’ll continue to update you through this hour as the news just comes out. In the last hours, after midnight, a gunman, believed to be white, 24 years old—police now say they believe he’s working alone—went into the premier of the Batman film in Aurora, Colorado, and killed—the figures, we think now, are 12 people, injuring 50, a number of them critically wounded. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.