Father of Aurora theater shooting victim enters state Senate race

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Tom Sullivan (R) walks out of Arapahoe County District Court with victims and family of victims in Centennial, Colorado April 27, 2015. Sullivan's son Alex Sullivan celebrated his 27th birthday by going to see "The Dark Knight Rises," movie where a gunman opened fire and killed him Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo. Colorado's long-awaited cinema massacre trial began on Monday with opening statements in which jurors were asked to decide whether gunman James Holmes was insane when he killed a dozen moviegoers in 2012, or a calculating mass murderer who deserves execution. Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple charges of murder and attempted murder for opening fire inside a midnight screening of a "Batman" movie at a Denver-area multiplex in July 2012. Twelve people were killed and another 70 were wounded in the shooting. REUTERS/Evan Semon    - RTX1AK2C

Tom Sullivan, right, walks out of Arapahoe County District Court with victims and family of victims in Centennial, Colorado April 27, 2015. Several years after his son Alex was killed in a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, he has announced he will run for a state Senate seat. Photo by Evan Semon/Reuters

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — The father of a man killed in the Colorado movie theater shootings said Tuesday he is running for a state Senate seat so he can bring his personal campaign for middle-class values and gun control to the Legislature.

Tom Sullivan, who became a face of anguish in the 2012 massacre that killed his son Alex, announced he is running as a Democrat in the heavily Republican Denver suburb of Greenwood Village.

With his wife, Terry, and daughter Megan beside him, Sullivan pledged to fight for paid family leave, gun control and “leveling the playing field” when it comes to economic opportunity for the middle class.

He also attacked the district’s Republican incumbent, Sen. Jack Tate, for supporting restrictions on abortion rights and voting against limits on background checks for gun buyers.

“When you vote in favor of a bill that would outlaw all abortions, even in case of rape, you are too extreme to represent our community,” Sullivan said.

“It does not bode well for his candidacy that he negatively involves himself in mischaracterizations of my record from the very start,” Tate said.

Sullivan was referring to a bill last year that would have made the killing of a fetus a homicide. Tate voted for the bill, which was rejected by Democrats who said it could be used to restrict abortions. The bill was motivated by the case of a Colorado woman who cut a fetus from a stranger’s womb. She was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and other charges on Tuesday.

Sullivan has no political experience. But he has lobbied the Legislature for limits on high-capacity gun magazines and testified this year for an unsuccessful bill to remove Colorado’s requirement that death penalty verdicts be unanimous.

Gun violence has motivated others in the U.S. to run for office, including Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband, Dennis, was killed and son Kevin wounded in a 1993 mass shooting on a commuter train leaving New York City. She served in Congress for about two decades, running on a campaign of gun control.

In Colorado, at least two state lawmakers were personally affected by gun crimes.

Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora is a prominent gun-control advocate, death-penalty supporter and the mother of a man who was slain with his fiancée in 2005. Republican Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock was a Columbine High School student during the 1999 mass shootings there. On Tuesday, he introduced legislation that would allow concealed carry permit holders to bring their weapons into public schools as a deterrent against shootings.

In the theater shooting, James Holmes attacked moviegoers while armed with an AR-15 rifle with a 100-round magazine.

An Arapahoe County jury convicted him of hundreds of counts in the shooting, which killed 12 people and injured 70.

But the jury couldn’t unanimously agree to impose the death penalty and, under Colorado law, Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The outcome stunned survivors, including Tom Sullivan.

Sullivan testified this year for a Senate bill that would have required the agreement of at least nine of 12 jurors on a death sentence.

Alex was killed while celebrating his 27th birthday and first wedding anniversary at a midnight premiere of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.” The day of the attack, Tom Sullivan shared his grief in public when he begged a group of reporters for help as he frantically tried to find his son.

Asked how his son’s murder influenced his decision to seek office, Sullivan said that “I can hear him” and that he wanted to make Alex proud.

Tom Sullivan is an Air Force veteran and retired postal worker and serves on the executive committee of the Colorado AFL-CIO.

Tate, of Centennial, was appointed to the seat in December and had nearly $32,000 cash on hand, according to a December state filing. Republicans hold a one-seat majority in Colorado’s Senate. Democrats control the House.

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