On a morning in August 2018, Elizabeth Emerson received a phone call every parent fears.
Emerson’s 25-year-old son, Jacob, had been shot and killed in a double murder while staying at a friend’s house.
A roommate’s ex-husband initially showed up that morning with an ax, according to Emerson, bent on causing harm. Jacob held him at bay, but the man later returned with a gun and murdered Jacob and his friend.
In the months of mourning to come, Emerson felt compelled to take action to help ensure other parents never receive “the worst phone call you can ever get.”
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 was a good start, she said. The legislation would require background checks on all gun sales, effectively closely loopholes on private sales like gun shows and online purchases. Under current law, only licensed gun dealers are required to perform a background check before selling a firearm. Advocates say it's an important tool to keep guns out of the wrong hands and save lives from gun violence.
Stamped the most signficant gun control measure to garner approval in two decades, the legislation passed the House on a largely party line vote, though a handful of Republicans supported the bill, roughly one year ago. However, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has yet to take up the measure.
Advocates with Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action joined U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette, Jason Crow and Joe Neguse at a press conference Saturday morning at East Middle School in Aurora to mark one year since the measure’s passage in the House and lament the Senate’s “inaction.”
A lifelong Republican, Emerson said Saturday the issue of gun violence isn’t about “right or left, it’s about life or death.”
“Instead of becoming law and saving lives, this bill has sat untouched on Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk,” Emerson, a Castle Rock resident and fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network, said. “Because, for 365 days in a row, he has decided that this life-saving legislation didn’t even deserve a vote on the Senate floor.”
‘Background checks work’
In reviewing the last 20 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado and the “pervasive epidemic of gun violence” that’s followed, Rep. Neguse said Congress has failed survivors across the country.
Neguse pointed to the statistic that there were more mass shootings in 2019 than days in the year.
“It’s something none of us should tolerate,” Neguse said.
Rep. Crow said Saturday since Colorado has passed its own background check law in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, thousands of gun sales have been halted. Crow cited a stat from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation that 2,000 gun sales have been stopped following the new background check law.
“No one is ever going to convince me that doesn’t make a difference,” Crow, whose congressional district includes Aurora, said. “No one is ever going to convince me that doesn’t make our community safer, because it does. And no one who should have a firearm, who under the law is being responsible, has been prevented from owning one.”
Wide bipartisan support
Advocates are especially dismayed about the stalled legislation due to the popularity among Americans of a universal background check system.
A July 2019 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 89 percent of Americans support universal background checks on gun sales. According to the poll, 84 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of independents and 96 percent of Democrats support gun purchase background checks. A separate August 2019 USA Today/Suffolk University poll found 90 percent support a universal background system.
Given its popularity, supporters like Elizabeth Liabraaten, a volunteer with the Colorado chapter of Moms Demand Action and Boulder resident, charge U.S. Senator Cory Gardner with failure to act, answer questions and support the measure.
“Sen. Gardner needs to address this issue and show his support for this bill.” said Liabraaten. “... It’s time for him to start listening to his constituents and not the NRA.”
When reached by phone, a Colorado Republican Party spokesperson declined to comment.
In an interview with Colorado Politics on Saturday, DeGette said it’s grassroots efforts like moms organizing around an issue like gun violence and messaging they will vote their conscience that will put pressure on Senate Republicans to finally take up the legislation that languishes on the majority leader’s desk.
In the wake of her son’s death, Emerson has launched a foundation with her son’s namesake focused on setting up mental health services on Colorado schools campuses.
In that August 2018 attack, Elizabeth’s son saved the life of a woman by helping her hide as the attacker returned with a gun. With the foundation, she hopes Jacob will have the chance to save additional lives from gun violence.