Feature: Colorado joins 14 U.S. states to pass "Red Flag" gun control laws

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By Peter Mertz

DENVER, the United States, March 30 (Xinhua) -- Seven years ago, Tom Sullivan's face became a symbol of anguish and pain, as the U.S. media aired him screaming "find my son."

Thursday in Denver, the U.S. state of Colorado, the grieving father got some redemption.

With a razor-close vote, the Colorado senate voted 18-17 to approve Sullivan's House Bill 1177 -- allowing Colorado police to take guns away from people showing signs of being a threat to themselves or others.

Had the law been in effect in 2012, Sullivan's son might be alive today. And with Colorado Democratic Governor Jared Polis on board, the new law's passage gave Sullivan the happiest moment since the worst day of his life.

"I'm not backing down - I've got nothing to lose," Sullivan told Xinhua after the landmark vote.

In an exclusive interview, the 62-year-old former postal worker turned politician told Xinhua how his son's murder triggered his political path, and how gun control legislation is dominating America's political agenda.


Sullivan's son died on July 20, 2012 inside a movie theater in Aurora, east of Denver. Alex Sullivan went there to celebrate his 27th birthday with a dozen friends who all worked waiting tables at a nearby Red Robin.

Minutes after midnight, bullets sprayed into the unsuspecting crowd, and the younger Sullivan was one of 12 people killed.

Later that day, Tom Sullivan's distraught face became a symbol of extreme agony -- a parent losing a child from gun violence -- that was broadcast from coast to coast by the U.S. media.

And on that day, the elder Sullivan's life changed forever, culminating in his victory on Thursday in Denver. "We scored a touchdown," he said modestly, a sports reference to a big score in football.

Gun control is a complex, multi-faceted issue, and this week's legislative win in the Rocky Mountain state is just the beginning of the air force veteran's quest to save lives.

"I lost one of the greatest gifts given to me, and I don't want this to happen to anyone else," Sullivan said. "I had no choice but to get into politics."

Sullivan is one of hundreds of politicians elected in 2018 by a growing sector of the electorate who used the mid-term election to voice their discontent with current gun laws.

A total of 14 states now have passed Extreme Risk Protection Order laws, also called Red Flag laws, that empower law enforcement and immediate family members to ask a judge if they can step in -- and remove the killing tools.

A majority of the "new" Red Flag states are in America's east -- in bastions of liberalism such as Massachusetts, Maryland, and New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to join the exclusive club last month.

But getting a swing state like Colorado to enact gun control legislation has been a different story.

"Thursday's Colorado vote shows the new movement in America...the new resistance to the NRA that is being mounted from coast to coast," said Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was also murdered in the Aurora theater shooting, referring to the National Rifle Association.

After that mass murder, Colorado passed two modest gun control laws - reducing in the size of magazines and requiring background checks - but politicians supporting these measures were voted out of office in 2016.

"The public mood has changed," Phillips told Xinhua Friday.

"With the mass murders not stopping and millions of Americans grieving the loss of family members, their pain has spilled over into the ballot box," Phillips noted, of the politicians voted into office last year.

"It is so tragic it took more unnecessary deaths to get Republican politicians to listen," she added.


"These victories come despite National Rifle Association money that has bought and paid politicians to vote against any form of gun control," Phillips said.

Gun control is an extremely partisan issue in the United States, with Republicans generally opposing regulation for the 300 million guns owned by Americans, and Democrats unsuccessfully trying to initiate modest control measures.

According to a 2018 article by Followthemoney.org, the NRA has spent 114 million U.S. dollars to support Republican pro-gun candidates while gun control advocates have spent a fraction.

In 2015-2016, the NRA gave 53 million dollars to Republican pro-gun political candidates, while Democrats wanting stricter gun laws received only 3.5 million dollars in campaign contributions, according to Followthemoney.

The United States has some 39,000 gun deaths every year, with more than 22,000 suicides, 9,000 homicides, and 1,000 children killed by guns, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Recent studies in Indiana and Connecticut show that Red Flag laws enacted in those states have saved lives by reducing firearm suicides by 8 and 15 percent respectively.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll last month, 69 percent of Americans, including 85 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans want tougher gun laws. Yet the public has little confidence in lawmakers to take action.


Since that grim day seven years ago, Sullivan has not stopped. Nor will he, ever.

Sullivan is pushing for a similar "safe storage" bill that might have stopped the 2012 murder of 27 elementary school children and staff in Newton, Connecticut, and last year's killing of 17 students at a Parkland, Florida high school, where deranged teenagers got access to unsecured guns.

A similar gun safety bill was approved by the New York legislature earlier this month, and is expected to be signed by Cuomo.

"Tom Sullivan is a true American hero," Phillips said of the retired air force veteran, the new House representative for Colorado's 37th district.

"He represents what is truly great about the USA - a patriotic, hard-working, family man who loved his son so much he will change gun laws and make America a safer, more humane place to live," she added. Enditem

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