COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - In this slice of the Rocky Mountains, bloodshed has arrived yet again, renewing passionate debate over whether gun control makes a community safer or places it more at risk.
While mass shootings have become more common all across the country, in Colorado, home to Columbine High School, the Aurora movie theater and, now, a Planned Parenthood clinic, the events resonate with profound power. And in a state neatly divided among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters, no one side in the gun debate prevails for long.
In 1999, Columbine High School, in a sleepy suburb of Denver, opened America's eyes to the horrors of a mass shooting when 12 students and one educator were killed. And three years ago, in Aurora, a suburb less than 20 miles from the high school, moviegoers watched as a dozen people were slaughtered at a midnight premiere of a Batman film.
Time and again in the wake of these shootings, Democrats demand tougher gun laws, while Republicans call reforms unnecessary and unlikely to stop violence.
"There's no reason this should continue to happen," Tom Sullivan said of Friday's violence that left a police officer, Garrett Swasey, and two civilians dead after a gunman opened fire in a Planned Parenthood office here. Sullivan's son, Alex, was killed three years ago in the theater shooting on what was his 27th birthday. "People who should not have guns walking around with guns shooting people. Why? Because they're mad?"
Sullivan works with groups including Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Everytown for Gun Safety in calling for stricter gun laws nationwide.
In the months after the theater shooting, he helped Colorado lawmakers, mostly Democrats, push for new laws to impose 15-round limits on ammunition magazines and universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers.
At the time, the debate over the gun bills was so contentious that legislative committee rooms were often filled to capacity. Added security was provided to lawmakers in and around the Capitol.
The legislation became law, but in yet another sign of Colorado's divided nature over guns, it also led to the ouster of two lawmakers that year, state Sens. John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo, in recall elections. A third state lawmaker chose to resign rather than face a recall election. All three are Democrats.
Laura Carno, a conservative activist from Colorado Springs who led the charge to recall Morse, wants to see a repeal of the state's new gun laws.
"They don't make anyone safer," said Carno, citing the Planned Parenthood attack and a separate incident last month where a man shot and killed three people in Colorado Springs' downtown corridor.
"These gun laws don't keep guns out of the hands of criminals, because they're criminals. . . . All they do is keep me from being able to buy the firearm of my choice," she said.
While Colorado lawmakers for the most part avoided blunt talk about gun control, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs did stand side by side at a news conference Saturday, vowing not to utter the suspected gunman's name in public.
But in the past the two men have split over the issue of gun control. Hickenlooper was a staunch supporter of the new gun laws, while Suthers, who recently ended an eight-year term as state attorney general, opposed the measures.