One year after the Aurora movie theater shootings, two groups converged in low-key but politically and emotionally charged events.
As theater-shooting survivor Stephen Barton, now a policy and outreach associate with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, opened a solemn memorial for victims of gun violence Friday at Cherry Creek State Park, a dozen members of pro-gun groups, including Gun Rights Across America and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, stood across the parking lot, waving signs supporting the Second Amendment.
Barton, 23, recalled the night he was in the Century Aurora 16 theater, watching a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" when a gunman opened fire. "Suddenly, the violence we saw on the screen didn't seem so distant."
Five months later, Barton was recovering at home in Connecticut when 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, about 10 miles away.
"It was very frustrating for me to realize the level of violence possible in this country," Barton said in an interview. "When I learned as many as 40 percent of all gun transfers in this country were made without any background checks, that to me was flabbergasting."
Mayors Against Illegal Guns lobbied for stricter gun controls nationally and in Colorado, where four initiatives passed in the last legislative session, including limits on ammunition magazine size and universal background checks.
Barton was joined at the remembrance event by Coni Sanders, a daughter of teacher Dave Sanders, who was one of 13 people who died when two teenaged gunmen opened fire at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
"Today, my father stands with me," she said. "He died saving hundreds of students and saving other families from the horror we experience every day."
Carlee Soto, whose sister Victoria died protecting her first-graders from a gunman at Sandy Hook, said, on average, more than 30 Americans are killed in gun violence every day.
The mayors' bus tour, with the slogan "No More Names," makes stops around the country where someone reads the names of every American killed by a gun since the Dec. 14 Newtown shooting.
Organizers said the list is vetted and excludes suicides and those killed in police actions. Volunteers read 2,500 names Friday, along with the names of Columbine and Aurora fatalities.
"This group grows every day, every minute," she said. "We have a serious problem."
Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was killed last year in Aurora, wondered aloud how long the debate about unrestricted access to guns must continue. "There must be common-sense solutions to these issues."
Alicia Perez, the Colorado spokeswoman for Gun Rights Across America, said her organization stages counter-rallies nationwide in protest of the mayors' bus tour.
But because of the timing of the Friday event — the reading of names was to end at 12:38 a.m. Saturday, the official moment gunfire began in the theater last year — this counter-protest was more subdued.
Shawna Whitacre, who came to Cherry Creek State Park wearing a shirt reading "Don't Tread On Me," said she thought long about joining the protest. She is from Aurora and used to frequent the Century Aurora 16 but hasn't been back since the massacre.
"I went back and forth," she said. "But then I thought, 'I have to support the families.' I needed to come out here because I'm totally pro-gun."
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners executive director Dudley Brown spoke about holding politicians accountable in defending Second Amendment rights and he found it tasteless for the mayors to bring a political agenda to the Aurora anniversary.
Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican candidate for governor, also spoke during the counter-rally, recalling his heartache for victims of shootings at Columbine and Platte Canyon high schools and Aurora, balanced against the constitutional right to bear arms.
Aurora resident Rob Vogt, a registered Democrat discontent with the Obama administration's anti-gun push, said he came to the counter-rally because's worried about losing freedoms.
"If we're standing on the edge of the blade and fall off on the wrong side," he said, "all our constitutional rights will fall off with us."