The largest mass shooting in U.S. history reached far beyond Aurora, Colo., today, bringing the presidential campaign trail to a standstill and paving the way for gun-control legislation to be back on the lips of many lawmakers headed into next week.
Even the most strident of gun-control advocates were measured in their statements early after the midnight movie theater shooting that left 12 dead and 59 wounded. But as the day went on and the weapons used in the rampage were revealed, including an AR-15, lawmakers grew bolder with their statements.
“#Aurora is another wake-up call. How many senseless tragic acts have 2 happen & lives have 2 be lost b4 enacting sensible gun control laws?” tweeted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
On the Republican side, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) mused back to the Luby’s cafeteria shooting in Killeen, Texas, in 1991 that killed 23 and wounded another 20. One patron had to leave her gun in her car due to the laws of the time, and her subsequent campaigning led to concealed carry laws in that state. Concealed carry permits are available in Colorado, but guns were not allowed in the movie theater.
“It does make me wonder, you know, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying?” Gohmert said on former Rep. Ernest Istook’s radio show. “That could have stopped this guy more quickly.”
The Department of Defense said that one sailor was injured in the shooting and another “known to have been at the theatre that evening is currently unaccounted for.” Two airmen were also injured.
“We can also confirm that the alleged gunman in this incident, James Holmes, is not a past or current member of any branch or component of the U.S. Armed Forces,” said the Pentagon statement.
President Obama pulled out of campaign events in Florida for the day, telling a crowd in Fort Myers “the federal government stands ready to do whatever is necessary to bring whoever is responsible for this heinous crime to justice.”
“And we will take every step possible to ensure the safety of all of our people,” he said before leading supporters in a moment of silence for the victims.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama was informed about the shootings by Homeland Security adviser John Brennan at nearly 5:30 a.m. The president then received a follow-up briefing from FBI Director Robert Mueller, Chief of Staff Jack Lew, and Brennan. Obama also called the mayor of Aurora and the police chief.
“I can tell you that this is a local law enforcement investigation at this point, and what we can say is that we do not believe at this point that there is an apparent nexus to terrorism,” Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said canceling campaign events was the “appropriate step” as “we’re focused on remembering the victims and finding out what happened.”
When asked by reporters, Carney said he had no scheduling updates or information on whether Obama would stop in the Denver area next week. This evening, the White House schedule for next week was released with campaign events Monday through Wednesday and again on Friday; on Monday, Obama flies to Reno for a VFW convention, then continues to Oakland, Calif., for campaign events.
Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak at the National Association of Police Organizations convention in Florida on Monday.
“It is every parent’s worst nightmare to receive ‘that phone call’ and to sit by their child’s bedside, praying,” Biden said in a statement. “We know what it’s like to wait and wonder and the helplessness a parent feels at this moment. Our hearts go out to each and every person who is suffering right now as a result of this terrible event.”