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Aurora victims honored, gun groups stage protest

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People hold signs as they gather for a remembrance rally for the anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora, Colo., Friday, July 19, 2013. (AP) People hold signs as they gather for a remembrance rally for the anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora, Colo., Friday, July 19, 2013. (AP)
Jerri Jackson, mother of Aurora, Colo. theater shooting victim Matthew McQuinn, stands next to a sketch of her son in Springfield, Ohio on Sunday, July 14, 2013. Jerri Jackson, mother of Aurora, Colo. theater shooting victim Matthew McQuinn, stands next to a sketch of her son in Springfield, Ohio on Sunday, July 14, 2013.

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Survivors of mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut gathered with dozens of supporters Friday in a suburban Denver park to honor those killed in the massacre at an Aurora movie theater almost a year to the day after the attack.

Vigil participants read a list of names of those killed in recent gun violence around the nation and talked about the pain of losing loved ones as they called for strict federal gun control laws.

"Why wait any longer?" asked Carlee Soto, whose sister was killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School rampage in Newtown, Conn. "The time for change is now."

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which promotes tough gun laws and was founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped sponsor the vigil.

The scene was somber, even as about 100 gun rights activists held a protest nearby to oppose new firearms restrictions as infringements on Second Amendment rights. Many wore orange National Rifle Association hats and T-shirts reading, "I will not comply."

"To the families and victims of the tragedy, we offer our condolences and prayers," said Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. "To Mayor Bloomberg and the group that would politicize this, we offer our opposition."

Brown helped organize the rally and carried a .45-caliber pistol to the park.

The shooting victims, meanwhile, called for more universal background checks and tighter restrictions on gun sales. Colorado has been the only state outside the East Coast to ratchet back gun rights in reaction to last year's mass shootings. A recent push for new federal restrictions failed in Congress.

"I think that Coloradans get it, that something must change," said Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the theater.

Just before their rally started, one gun rights activist, Rob Blancken, tried to stand behind a lectern with a sign that read, "Tell billionaire Mayor Bloomberg to stay the hell out of Colorado." He was told to move by a state parks ranger.

Gun rights organizers said they sympathized with the victims but didn't see new gun control laws as a solution.

"We want the families of the victims to know that we are sorry for their loss," said Alicia Perez, a Colorado organizer with Gun Rights Across America.

For his part, Stephen Barton, who was wounded in Aurora, said, "You shouldn't wait until it affects you to start caring about it."

"I never thought I would ever be affected by gun violence personally," Barton added.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns said participants were reading the names of about 2,500 people who have been killed by gunfire since Dec. 14, when a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook.

The Aurora vigil came almost a year to the day after 12 people were killed and 70 others were wounded, some paralyzed, in a July 20 attack at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."

The victims' names were being read until 12:38 a.m. Saturday, the moment that the shootings began in the theater last year.

The theater planned no midnight showings on July 20 this year. Seven police officers were in the theater lobby Friday afternoon, and another was outside near an exit.

Remembrance events planned for Saturday included an early morning memorial service and a host of volunteer civic works, music, arts and even meditation. Aurora officials say they wanted to promote healing.

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Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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