LITTLETON, Colo. — A lone police cruiser outside Columbine High School was the only outward reaction Friday to an even deadlier attack at a Connecticut elementary school.
But in a state that was rocked by the 1999 Columbine school massacre and the Aurora movie theater shooting less than six months ago, Friday’s shootings renewed debate over why mass shootings keep occurring and whether gun control can stop them.
"Until we get our acts together and stop making these ... weapons available, this is going to keep happening," said an angry Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the theater shooting last July in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
Teves was choked up as he answered a reporter’s call Friday. A work associate of his lives in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary. The connection chilled and angered him.
The 20-year-old killer, identified by a law enforcement official as Adam Lanza, carried out the attack with two handguns. A high-powered .223-caliber rifle was found in the back of a car.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record about the unfolding investigation.
The shooting has once again stoked the never-ending debate over gun control laws.
This week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper generated a storm of debate after declaring that it was time to start debating gun control measures.
After Friday’s school shootings, Hickenlooper told reporters there’s no use waiting until news coverage fades.
"We can’t postpone the discussion on a national level every time there’s a shooting. They’re too often," he said.
A visibly emotional President Obama seemed willing to renew debate, calling for "meaningful action" to prevent similar shootings.
Also Friday, Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during an attack that killed six people in Tucson, Ariz., last year, said the Connecticut shooting should "sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right."
"This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence," Kelly said on his Facebook page, calling for "a meaningful discussion about our gun laws and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America."
Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex also died in the Aurora theater shooting, welcomed the discussion. Sulllivan and his wife spent part of the morning making sure relatives who live in the area were OK.
Sullivan said mental health, not gun control, is a more pressing concern.
"We all need someone in our lives to care," Sullivan said. "If we see a friend, a colleague, a co-worker and they’re having a hard time, we need to reach out."
Former U.S. attorney Troy Eid, who was part of a government panel that examined the Columbine shooting, said more must be done to examine what motivates such criminals.
"It’s something that’s become part of our culture. We have to study it and see what we can do to prevent it," Eid said.
Some shoppers interviewed at Oregon’s Clackamas Town Center, scene of the Tuesday mall killings, had similar reactions.
"We need to pay more attention to the people close to us, because I think there’s a lot of signs prior to things," said shopper Sierra Delgado of Happy Valley, Ore.
Mental health screenings alone aren’t enough, other Colorado shooting survivors said.
Tom Mauser, who became a gun-control advocate after his son Daniel was killed at Columbine, urged officials to stop "playing defense" on gun control.
"Let’s not say once again, ‘Oh, this is not the right time to talk about it.’ It is the right time to talk about it.
"We are better than a nation that has people killing children and has people cowardly shooting people in shopping malls and schools and nursing homes. We’re better than this."
Such emotional appeals didn’t come only from gun control supporters. Friday’s responses from both sides foretold a heart-wrenching debate.
"They’re going to use the bodies of dead children to push their agenda," predicted Dudley Brown of the Denver group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.