Briefline

Gun safety advocates, Colorado lawmakers highlight need for more action as school year starts

By: - August 24, 2022 5:31 pm

State Sen. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora, speaks during a press conference on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol on Aug. 24, 2022, about gun violence prevention. Behind her, from left, are Jeffco school board member Mary Parker, gun violence prevention activist Tom Mauser, state Rep. Tom Sullivan, Democratic candidate for state House District 61 Eliza Hamrick, Colorado Democratic Party Executive Director Karin Asensio, and gun violence prevention activist Maisha Fields. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

As Colorado students returned to classrooms after the summer break, gun safety advocates and Democratic lawmakers gathered outside the Colorado Capitol Wednesday to urge vigilance and further action as school shootings continue to plague American schools.

“Did you know that guns are the leading cause of death among children in Colorado?” asked Karin Asensio, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party, during a speech in which she talked about her own children’s anxiety over the threat of school gun violence. “Gun violence is hurting all Coloradans across the aisle, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, everyone is hurting.”

Mary Parker, a Jeffco Public Schools board member, also referred to firearms being the leading cause of death among Colorado children.

“That is a shame,” Parker said. “It’s a shame on our state. It is a shame on our country. We have to keep working to turn that around.”

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Three of the speakers during the press conference — state Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora, Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial and Tom Mauser — have lost children to gun violence. Fields’ son Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiance, Vivian Wolfe, were shot and killed in Aurora in 2005. Sullivan’s son Alex died in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. Mauser’s son Daniel died in the Columbine school shooting. Fields’ daughter, Maisha Fields, a gun violence prevention activist, also spoke during the event.

The speakers’ prescription for further gun violence prevention included proposed new laws as well as a call to fully implement measures already enacted.

So, to law enforcement across the state of Colorado, you do have a duty to intervene and to protect public places and our schools.

– State Sen. Rhonda Fields

Fields suggested parents make sure they understand the shooter-response protocols at their children’s schools, which she said could help avoid what happened when a shooter in Uvalde, Texas, in May killed 19 children and two teachers as law enforcement officers waited over an hour before directly engaging the shooter.

“Law enforcement in my view, have the duty to intervene and to protect when there’s an active shooting that’s taking place, not only in our schools but also in public places,” Fields said, referring to how in Uvalde the police were on scene “and they’re not taking action.”

“So, to law enforcement across the state of Colorado,” Fields said, “you do have a duty to intervene and to protect public places and our schools. That’s what we pay our tax dollars for.”

Possible new state legislation could involve raising the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle, Sullivan said. The current minimum age is 18. He said an assault weapons ban would not be considered at the state level and that it’s the role of Congress to enact such a ban. Lawmakers might also consider legislation that would impose a gun purchase waiting period, Sullivan said.

Mauser is a prominent gun violence prevention activist. He noted that school is still a relatively safe place for kids to be, and shootings are statistically rare.

“But it happens often enough, especially compared to all the other nations that are like us where it doesn’t happen at all,” he said. “It, shamefully, happens too often. And no parent can take safety for granted.”

Mauser said efforts to address school shootings fall under two categories: security and prevention. Security includes school resource offices, school design elements that deter a shooter, and, “unfortunately,” active shooter drills.

But security alone can’t protect students, he said.

“That’s why we also need prevention,” Mauser said. “We need to take reasonable steps to prevent a school shooting from happening in the first place.”

Colorado has already taken many preventive steps, Mauser noted. State lawmakers in recent years, for example, have enacted a high capacity magazine ban, a “red flag” law, and a safe firearm storage law, and they established the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

But Mauser also said the state needs stronger prevention efforts, such as better threat assessments and greater application of safe storage, the red flag law, and other measures already in place.

The first day of school for Denver Public Schools was Monday. There were almost 887,000 K-12 students in Colorado last school year.

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