Aurora shooting victims call for Romney, Obama to tackle gun violence in debate

Victims of the Aurora, Colo. shooting, their family members and gun-control advocates have unleashed a robust push for President Obama and Mitt Romney to address gun violence during Wednesday’s debate in Denver.

In a national television ad released Monday, a victim of the July shooting spree that killed a dozen people and wounded 58 others pleads with the presidential candidates to unveil their plans to curb the country’s level of gun violence. 

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“I never thought I’d be a shooting victim until I was bleeding on a floor in Aurora,” said Stephen Barton, who survived gunshots to his face and neck. 

“I was lucky, but I’ve seen what happens when dangerous people get their hands on guns. And I think it’s fair to ask the men who want to lead the country to get past the platitudes and give us a serious plan to address a serious problem,” he said.

The ad comes as more than a dozen family members of the shooting’s victims on Monday asked Jim Lehrer, the PBS news anchor who is moderating Wednesday’s debate, to pose a question on gun control and violence to Obama and Romney.

“It’s time that the next U.S. president discuss and provide possible solutions to the growing problem of gun violence in America,” the 13 family members wrote in a letter to Lehrer. 

“Mass shootings will happen again. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Thirty-two Americans will be murdered today. We just don’t yet know their names or the families or communities they come from. Their lives matter. We, as a nation, are better than this.”

Those efforts are backed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 700 mayors in favor of strengthening background-check laws for gun purchases that would make it harder for criminals and the mentally unstable people to obtain firearms.

A similar push was made in August by victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, when 67 of the shooting’s survivors and victim relatives wrote to presidential cnadidates and asked them to declare a plan to lower the level of gun violence in the United States.

Neither Obama nor Romney, in the wake of the Colorado shooting and a separate rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed five people, signaled a desire to use the White House to strengthen gun laws. And both candidates have wavered on their previous positions on gun control issues. 

Following the Aurora shooting, Obama said policymakers should do “everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons.” But as president, Obama has only moved to broaden gun ownership laws, signing a bill into law that allows registered guns on trains and in national parks.

Romney, meanwhile, said new gun restrictions were not the answer after the Aurora shooting. As the governor of Massachusetts, though, he put the state’s first assault weapons ban into place nearly a decade ago.

The hesitance to address the issue reveals the political volatility attached to the debate. Gun owners and advocates, backed by the powerful lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association (NRA), argue that stronger laws could infringe on an individual’s Second Amendment rights.

But groups backing stronger gun-control measures, such as the Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, argue that "loopholes" at gun shows allow people with criminal histories and mental health issues to buy firearms without having to go through background checks. 

In an interview last month with Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Romney laid out some details of how he would treat the country’s gun laws as president, arguing that firearm purchases at gun shows do not need any more regulations.

“Anti-gun organizations have perpetrated this myth that somehow laws don’t apply at gun shows and that’s nonsense,” said Romney, according to the interview.

“All sales from federal firearm licensees are regulated no matter where they take place, and private sales are regulated at gun shows just as they are anywhere else.”

Thirty-three states do not have any regulations governing private gun sales at firearms shows and do not require private gun dealers to obtain a permit in order to sell firearms at shows, according to state laws.

—Mike Lillis contributed to this story.