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Aurora shooting: Tom Mauser, Columbine father, on gun control, political silence

It's not about politics, it's about the tens of thousands of people who die every year in America due to gun violence -- including the twelve victims of the Aurora theater shootings.

This is how Tom Mauser, father of a Columbine victim and now activist for gun control, responds to politicians and others in Colorado and across the country who are saying that now is not the time to have a debate about gun policy.

"There really isn't any debate on it at this point," he says. "Everyone wants to avoid it like the plague."

Tom Mauser speaks at a vigil on Friday night in Aurora surrounded by local religious leaders.
Tom Mauser speaks at a vigil on Friday night in Aurora surrounded by local religious leaders.
Sam Levin

Mauser, sixty, who spoke at the Aurora vigil on Friday night after accused shooter James Holmes killed twelve and injured dozens more at the midnight screening of The Dark Night Rises, lost his son Daniel to the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.

Since then, he has become a vocal gun-control advocate with a group called Colorado Ceasefire, where he is a spokesman and board member.

"The statements that have been out there have been so...devoid of any content," Mauser says. "It's clear that there is a real fear of taking on a controversial issue like this when it's an election year."

In public appearances so far, Governor John Hickenlooper has dodged questions about gun control. On Sunday's Meet the Press, he said:

I think that [gun control] debate's going to happen. It has already started. But you look at this person, again, almost a creature, if he couldn't have gotten access to guns, what kind of bomb he would have manufactured? We're at a time, an information age, where there's access to all kinds of information.... I think he was almost a terrorist that wanted to take away not just from the people here, but from the country, our ability to enjoy life, to go to a movie theater. Which for most of us is a refuge where we can get away from the pressures of life. It's a human issue. How are we not able to identify someone like this who is so deeply, deeply disturbed?

It's this kind of talk that completely misses the point, Mauser believes.

"It seems like with every case, we have an excuse, but we don't look at the overall problem," he says.

When asked for a response to these criticisms, a Hickenlooper spokesman deferred to previous comments on the matter while pointing out that the governor has acknowledged the gun control debate will happen -- "but now is not the time as people...are still being buried."

Page down to read more of our interview with Tom Mauser.   Holmes only had a single traffic violation on his record, but even if he had more of a criminal record, that wouldn't have stopped him from purchasing guns, Mauser notes. "If someone said, "I think this guy is dangerous,' we still couldn't stop that, because we have the bar set so high."

Aurora vigil.
Aurora vigil.
Sam Levin

"The loss...of lives is not a political issue. It's not a partisan issue. It's a social issue," Mauser says. "It's a social ill that we have right now that we are clearly not dealing with. We have a shameful level of gun violence compared to the rest of the world.... When the rest of the world says we are nuts, they're right. It's crazy."

While Mauser says it's hard to believe that this level of violence would not spark the kinds of debates he would like to see after years advocating for stricter gun control laws, he has come to expect inaction.

"I'm not surprised. You can't be when you follow the stories," he says.

So what will it take for the debate to change?

"There's two primary things: It'll take a really depressing one -- a lot more lives to be lost, because clearly losing...32 people a day isn't prompting us into action," Mauser says, referencing the 2007 rampage at Virgina Tech. "The other thing would be for more people like me -- not just those who lost someone directly -- to get engaged in the issue."

He hopes that someday politicians will fear the anger of folks like him as much as they are afraid of upsetting the gun lobby.

And the gun lobby has done a good job, he says, of making the conversation about fear of lost rights versus basic common sense -- such as, in Mauser's view, the idea that regular folks shouldn't be able to so easily access military weapons that can do as much damage as Holmes did last week.

"The problem is, we've seen all kinds of people commit these terrible crimes in all kinds of locations," he says. "There's a lot of variety. The only common element is the gun."

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora theater shooting: Torrence Brown Jr. first to sue over attack"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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