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Last week saw mass shootings across the U.S. Could they be a springboard for gun control?

Between the tragedies in Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado there were several other mass shootings — in Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Stockton, California and Gresham, Oregon. Two people died and 26 were wounded. How can Americans prevent the next gun tragedy? Colorado State Assemblyman Tom Sullivan, who lost his son to a mass shooting in 2012, joins William Brangham to discuss the issue.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The suspect in the Boulder shootings is expected to make his first court appearance tomorrow. Law enforcement officials have not publicly discussed his possible motives yet.

    President Biden called the mayor of Boulder today to offer his condolences.

    And, as the investigation continues, many observers and advocates say the shootings should be a springboard for new action.

    William Brangham focuses on that part of the story tonight.

  • William Brangham:

    Judy, these murders in Boulder, Colorado, came just one week after the mass shootings in Georgia.

    But what many people don't understand is that, between those two tragedies, there were several other mass shootings, in Dallas, in Houston, in Philadelphia, in Stockton, California, and in Gresham, Oregon. Two people died in those other incidents, which included a drive-by shooting and a shooting at a club, among others; 26 more people were wounded.

    Back in Boulder, there were candlelight vigils last night, and they will continue the rest of this week.

    We look now at what might come next with Colorado State Representative Tom Sullivan. He is a Democrat. And his son Alex was killed in the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.

    Representative Sullivan, thank you very much for being here.

    I know that this is not something you ever wanted to be an expert in. But there are 10 families in Boulder going through what you went through several years ago. And I wonder if you could just help us understand a little bit about what they're going through and what counsel you would offer them.

  • State Rep. Tom Sullivan:

    Now, just a couple of days after, they're trying to get out-of-town family to come in. They're trying to get preparations for a funeral for where their children are going to be buried.

    It's all that kind of stuff. And, on top to have that, they're dealing with people — all of a sudden, their sons or daughters' pictures are on the front page of the paper, and they have to come up with like two-minute synopsis of what the previous 25 years with that son or daughter was like, and to get somebody to understand who their son or daughter was.

  • William Brangham:

    I know that you ran for office after your son's tragedy.

    And we have seen in other cases, in Parkland, in Newtown, and perhaps even now after Atlanta, that these events become galvanizing for the families involved.

    Do you think that that's the same here? And I'm curious, is it just because of the horror of these events? Is it because of the state of our federal gun laws? Like, what is it?

  • Tom Sullivan:

    Well, I mean, certainly.

    I mean, you never know what is going to cause somebody to take action. To really take any kind of action with this, it's going to require the federal government to get involved in this. I mean, in the last — some of these common sense things that can help.

    But we're not going to eliminate this. Nothing that we can do is going to eliminate this. But, collectively, piece by piece, we can save lives. And, quite frankly, that's why I got myself elected, was to come to the state capital here in Denver and start to save lives.

  • William Brangham:

    You said that it has to come from the national government level. Why is that? You ran for office in Colorado and you had some success passing some laws there.

    Why is it you say that it has to come from the federal level?

  • Tom Sullivan:

    Well, I mean, we passed a background check here in the state of Colorado in 2013. They don't have it in the surrounding states about us.

    We have a high-capacity magazine limit here in the state of Colorado. They don't have it in the surrounding states around us. I mean, there, even in the — the shooter in Boulder with his ability to get an assault rifle. At the time, if they had had that assault weapons ban in Boulder, all he had to do was go to the next county or the next town and purchase that stuff.

    So, we need collective help from the national government. If they did background checks across the country, that would be better for us. If they did extreme risk protection orders across the country, that would help us.

  • William Brangham:

    President Biden called for an assault weapons ban. The mayor of Boulder, we know, had asked that ban to be renewed in the city of Boulder, which was in place, but it was being blocked by a judge.

    Even The New York Post ran an editorial today saying we have to get what they call these weapons of war off the streets.

    Do you agree with that? And do you think that that will actually have any chance of passing?

  • Tom Sullivan:

    Well, I mean, assault weapons, they put the mass in the shooting. That's just as clear as I can say it.

    The ability to get off more rounds quicker is what causes these high-casualty rates. If they had pump action, they couldn't do it. If they just — if they had a smaller-capacity magazine, they wouldn't have been able — they would have to change them out.

    I get it that that's what they have been selling, and I have heard all of that about how many tens of millions of these types of weapons are out there. And I know how difficult it is to differentiate between all of the different platforms that they use. But we need — I mean, something has to happen.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, we have seen — to this discussion about action having to come from the federal government, we have seen two senior Republican senators, John Thune and Ted Cruz of Texas, say recently that — they echo this very common point, which is none of these laws that are being proposed would stop X-event, Y-law does not stop X-event.

    How do you respond to that?

  • Tom Sullivan:

    Last — in 2019, we passed an extreme risk protection order here in the state of Colorado.

    Last year, we had 113 petitions that were filed. Historically, from the other states that have ran extreme risk protection orders, what that tells us is that for, every 11 petition filed, you save one life.

    What happened in the state of Colorado last year by the 113 positions that were filed, we saved 10 lives. OK? You can't quantify that. I can't tell you the names of the 10 people, but I know that that happened. And it probably was more than that. That's what we're doing.

    Yes, we're not going to stop this. There is — it's the same with anything. There is no one thing that can stop this from happening. But, collectively, we can bring the numbers down, we can start saving some lives, and that's what I'm going to continue to do.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, State Representative Tom Sullivan from Colorado, thank you very much for being here.

  • Tom Sullivan:

    Thank you.

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