Published: September 4, 2013
As six Colorado sheriffs rallied voters outside Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum to oust Sen. John Morse from office for gun control legislation, parents who lost children in the Aurora theater shooting shared their stories of loss and their reasons for supporting the gun bills.
Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, are facing recall elections on Sept. 10 but voters in the senators' districts can cast ballots beginning Thursday at 8 a.m. First the ballot asks if Morse and Giron should be removed from office, then it asks if they are successfully recalled who should replace them.
Former Colorado Springs City Councilman Bernie Herpin, a Republican, is running as a replacement for Morse and in Pueblo, Republican George Rivera is seeking to replace Giron.
The two events were in stark contrast to one another as expensive campaigns on either side refocused their efforts around the gun issues that started the recall effort to begin with.
Morse, who is president of the Senate, and Giron, who was first elected in 2010, both supported a slew of gun bills passed following the shooting at a midnight screening of the Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises, last summer that killed 12 people.
The laws banned magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition, required background checks on all gun sales even between private individuals, charged a $5 fee for all background checks and empowered judges to remove guns from those accused of violent domestic abuse.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who is part of a lawsuit filed by 50 sheriffs challenging the constitutionality of the new laws, said the laws are unenforceable. He urged people to kick Morse out of office for refusing to listen to the needs of his constituents.
"He [Morse] did not think that citizen input was of any value," Maketa said to a crowd holding "Recall Morse" signs. "These laws target law-abiding citizens. It attacks your right to bear arms."
Maketa said he will never forget the date - March 4 - that he and hundreds of gun control opponents went to testify at the Capitol against the gun laws and were limited to two hours of testimony per bill.
Tom Sullivan, 54, lost his son Alex Sullivan, 27, in the Aurora shooting when police say suspect James Holmes entered the theater with a semi-automatic weapon and a magazine that held 100 rounds and opened fire.
"Anytime I want to go talk to my son I have to go to a cemetery now, and I don't want the other fathers and mothers to have to make the same trip I've had to make," Sullivan said.
The firepower of that weapon was so great it nearly cut the woman sitting next to his son in half, he said.
"That's the kind of firepower that people are able to go out and get in brightly lit places like this," Sullivan said. "This is stuff that you're able to easily buy right down the street from our homes. This needs to stop."
Weld County Sheriff John Cooke held up two high-capacity magazines and challenged Morse to tell him which is now illegal. Magazines purchased before July were grandfathered in and are still legal.
"These do nothing for public safety," Cooke said. "We didn't ask for this fight, but we had to do something."
That's how gun owners Sandy Phillips, 63, and her husband Lonnie Phillips, 69, of San Antonio, Texas, said they feel.
The Phillips' 24-year-old daughter was killed in the Aurora theater and before that they never would have thought they needed to advocate for stricter gun control.
"Why the other side wouldn't want to save one person by going through a background check is beyond me," Sandy Phillips said. "If that saves one life and you're inconvenienced for 10 minutes isn't that worth it?"
That life could have been their daughter, Jessica Ghawi, who would have graduated from Metropolitan State University five months after she died.
Contact Megan Schrader