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.”
The Obama campaign also pulled all of its TV ads in Colorado “for the time being,” and the president issued a proclamation ordering all flags at federal buildings here and abroad to be flown at half-staff for five days.
Mitt Romney’s campaign also pulled its Colorado advertising and canceled an event for Ann Romney.
The Republican presidential hopeful delivered remarks on the shooting to a small crowd in New Hampshire.
“There will be justice for those responsible, but that’s another matter for another day,” Romney said. “Today is a moment to grieve and to remember, to reach out and to help, to appreciate our blessings in life.”
And new gun legislation can be expected on Capitol Hill, but a bill introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) to target ammunition magazines greater than 10 rounds has been gathering dust at the committee level for more than a year.
“We can’t possibly know what is happening in a single deranged mind. But once again a random act of violence has taken innocent lives,” Maloney said today. “I know local law enforcement will have the total support of their communities as they conduct their investigation.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on CNN today that gun control “just doesn’t work.”
“The president was right today. What we are watching tonight is the result of an evil act,” Gingrich said. “Evil acts should be punished decisively, immediately, swiftly. People should learn a civic lesson that we’re not going to tolerate certain things. This is unacceptable in a civilized society. He shouldn’t be tied up with lawyers for 10 years and psychiatrists for 10 years.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, on Wolf Blitzer’s show alongside Gingrich, called the massacre “domestic terrorism.”
“It’s not just this guy who’s evil and apparently also sick. The guy in Columbine. The kids in Columbine. The people in Arizona. …A shot in the White House, 11-11-11, with an AK-47, shot the window in the White House,” Jackson said. “And so we’re now engulfed by the saturation of guns. Either you have gun control or more gun flow. And gun flow does not make us more secure.”
Warner Bros. pulled trailers of The Dark Knight Rises and rushed to release an edited version free of all gun imagery.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called the tragedy “another grim reminder that guns are the enablers of mass killers and that our nation pays an unacceptable price for our failure to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”
“We don’t want sympathy,” said Brady Campaign president Dan Gross. “We want action.”
Gun Owners of America criticized the “no guns” policy in the Aurora theater.
“Tragically, many were killed last night. But it is also tragic that there was not another gun-toting Samuel Williams at the theater — the senior who rescued several Floridians against two armed thugs at an Internet cafe last week,” GOA said in statement on the shooting. “…To keep this in perspective, whenever we hear about horrid shootings like the one last night in Aurora, Colorado, we should remember that guns save as many as 80 lives for every one that is tragically taken.”