A few weeks ago, Tom Teves, of Phoenix, sent his senators a letter. His 24-year-old son, Alex, was killed last year in the Aurora, Colo. movie theater massacre, and he wanted to tell them Alex’s story and encourage them to take action on guns.
What he got in response, he said, were cold, impersonal form letters from Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans. Neither of the letters even addressed the Colorado massacre. In fact, they brought up an entirely different shooting, the schoolhouse killings in Newtown, Conn., and mentioned each senator’s ongoing support of the Second Amendment. It was like Alex Teves’ death hadn’t gotten through to the senators or their staffs.
Now, Tom Teves has shared the letters he received with TPM. He did so after his wife confronted McCain in-person Wednesday with her son’s story and a question about guns at a town hall event in Phoenix. McCain’s response included the remark that Caren Teves needed “some straight talk” on the issue of assault weapons.
“The Senator owes my wife an apology - he is lucky I wasn’t there,” Tom Teves wrote in an email to TPM late Thursday. “He was a ‘tough guy’ with a grieving Mom - that is not who I want leading my country! The sad fact is I used to have a great deal of respect for the Senator McCain, not anymore.”
McCain’s spokesman Brian Rogers said Friday he has a policy not to comment on correspondence with constituents. After TPM pressed him to explain the policy and to respond to the letter, Rogers hung up the phone.
Rogers later sent along video from the town hall that showed McCain expressing sympathy for Caren Teves’ loss before telling her bluntly that an assault weapons ban would not pass Congress.
“Well, first of all, could I say thank you, and God bless, and thank you for your service and sacrifice you’ve made,” McCain said in the raw video. “Our hearts and our prayers go out to you and your family.”
Flake’s spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky took a different tack. She apologized for the impersonal form letter Tom Teves received. “While the letter from Senator Flake outlines his position on gun control as requested,” Rozansky said in a written statement to TPM, “Mr. Teves absolutely should have received a personalized response acknowledging his deep loss, and we’re very sorry that he received a form letter.”
Tom Teves can’t remember exactly when his correspondence with the senators began. He estimated it was in early February when he went to the website of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the gun control organization launched by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Because he filled out a web form, he also doesn’t have an exact copy of the text he wrote in the letters. But he did have an earlier draft, which he said he had to cut down by about half to meet the space requirements of the website.
Teves said he remembered some of the sections that made it into the final version included how his son died shielding his girlfriend from the theater gunman, who was armed with high-powered guns and high-capacity magazines.
“He was in the third row to the back of the theatre on the ground covering the love of his life with his body and a ballistic bullet from an assault weapon blew his head off,” the draft of Teves’ email said. “The bullet was designed to do the most damage possible to a human body and it was extremely violent.”
Teves said he also remembered pleading with his senators to enact bans that would help do away with such guns.
“My son was not with us at Christmas and he won’t be EVER AGAIN,” Teves wrote in his draft, “it’s time our politicians had ONE TENTH of the courage my 24 year old son showed that day by protecting his love with his own body.”
But as passionate as Teves’ draft emails were, the responses he received were equally dispassionate. Both senators got back to him, but their messages didn’t express condolences or even mention the Aurora shooting.
“Thank you for contacting my office regarding the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and its impact on federal gun legislation. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views with me,” McCain’s letter said in its opening.
Flake’s letter also opened with an impersonal reference to the Newtown massacre.
“As you may know, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and I do not believe that our society needs more laws restricting gun ownership,” Flake’s letter said. “What we really need is to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, while ensuring that those who break existing laws are fully prosecuted.”
Teves was livid. He followed up with each senator. “Glad that I wrote about my murdered son and you responded with a form letter about Newton (sic),” Teves wrote to Flake. “Your humanity is lacking. I wonder how you would feel if your son was murdered and you got a form letter in return?”
To McCain, Teves wrote: “My son was murdered at the Aurora Theatre shooting I guess you missed that small portion of my note. I was always a loyal supporter but your (sic) losing me. I will never see my son on this earth again. So the Senator responds with a form letter, obviously my son in the Senator’s mind doesn’t count, since the response was a form letter, where is your humanity.”
Teves said McCain then added insult to injury with the response to his wife at the Phoenix town hall this week. “I am far from a liberal,” Tom Teves told TPM, “but the GOP has lost touch with America.”
Below are the messages, starting with Teves’ draft to the senators. The full letters from McCain and Flake follow. After that are Teves’ follow-up emails to both senators. TPM edited out Teves’ home address.
My name is Tom Teves and I am the father of Alex Teves. Alex was murdered while watching a movie in Aurora, Colorado. He willingly gave up his life to save the love of his life. He should have NEVER had to make that choice, it was the right one, more courageous than anyone who is reading this has made, but he should have NEVER been put in that position. His entire life was dedicated to helping people and it was snuffed out in less than 90 seconds. He was in the third row to the back of the theatre on the ground covering the love of his life with his body and a ballistic bullet from an assault weapon blew his head off. The bullet was designed to do the most damage possible to a human body and it was extremely violent. We were never able to see him again the injuries were so severe. Please remember what I said he was IN THE BACK OF THE THEATRE UNDER THE SEATS. Americans have no need for assault weapons, quite frankly assault is a felony in most states and felons should be given no rights, they made a choice to work against society and willing relinquished those rights. Get these weapons off the street. Outlaw all of them, give people 60 days to turn them in, compensate them for these weapons of cowards, and then put ANYONE in possession of one in prison for a mandatory five years. It’s time to have real courage America and live by the one basic law of humanity, “Though shalt not kill” and that is the only value of assault weapons to kill. STOP the killing take these guns off the streets. My son was not with us at Christmas and he won’t be EVER AGAIN, it’s time our politicians had ONE TENTH of the courage my 24 year old son showed that day by protecting his love with his own body as well as the courage Amanda shows daily just getting out of bed. There are many reasons for this type of atrocity and guns are not the only reason but they are one of them, without assault weapons Alex would surely be alive as would many more of the children in the Newtown school the logic is unequivocal of that fact.
Stand up America, if you’re not in a war the only people who need automatic weapons are COWARDS hiding behind them as they have no courage to stand on their own. The America I know is the home of the FREE and the land of the BRAVE. Freedom means being able to go to school or the movies without fear of being shot, being brave means having the courage to pose common sense restrictions on gun ownership because you’re confident enough in our society not to need to hide behind an assault weapon. America it’s TIME to stand up or watch one of your children, friend, spouse, die for absolutely no reason except we were too WEAK to act. It’s time for leadership and COURAGE. It’s too late for Alex but let’s stop the need for prayer vigils and reading of names and memorials. Let’s keep these victims anonymous because we had to the courage to address one of the causes before there are more names to “remember” - once that happens it too late for all of us, remember, the bell that tolls could toll for you or worse yet your child next.
On Feb 13, 2013, at 10:16 AM, “firstname.lastname@example.org”
February 13, 2013
Mr. Thomas Teves
Dear Mr. Teves:
Thank you for contacting my office regarding the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and its impact on federal gun legislation. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views with me.
As you know, on December 14, 2012, a mentally unstable gunman committed a senseless atrocity by murdering twenty students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. While many Americans continue to try to rationalize this tragedy it remains clear that the inhumane and depraved actions of this individual gunman appear to be motivated solely by his extremely disturbed mental state.
On January 16, 2013, President Obama and his administration introduced a twenty-three point plan which lays out both executive and legislative proposals that would attempt to prevent future violence. As the details of the President’s proposals become more clear, I look forward to reviewing them, and working with my colleagues to find sensible solutions that respect the Second Amendment but also help us prevent these type of horrific events from ever happening again.
While I am an unwavering supporter of the Second Amendment, please know that I will seriously consider all reasonable public safety legislation that comes before the Senate.
Thank you once again for contacting my office. Please do not hesitate to do so on this or any other issue of concern.
United States Senator
On Feb 20, 2013, at 4:16 PM, “Senator Jeff Flake”
Dear Mr. Teves:
Thank you for contacting me about gun control legislation.
In the wake of the tragic December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been a surge in the introduction of congressional legislation attempting to address gun violence. A ban on assault weapons, restrictions on ammunition and magazines, and increased background check requirements have all been proposed.
As you may know, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and I do not believe that our society needs more laws restricting gun ownership. What we really need is to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, while ensuring that those who break existing laws are fully prosecuted.
To that end, I support more effective and broader background checks for those purchasing firearms. For example, the state of Arizona has more than 120,000 records of mentally ill individuals barred from buying guns - but Arizona has not shared those records with the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which checks the names and records of would-be gun buyers to determine if they are disqualified from receiving firearms. At the same time, it is incumbent upon lawmakers to ensure that those eligible to buy guns can do so without untimely delays. I therefore am opposed to universal background checks on private sales, which would be extremely costly and apply to private transfers between family members, friends, neighbors, and even firearms passed down through wills.
Thank you again for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to do so again in the future. I also encourage you to visit my website, which may be found at flake.senate.gov.
United States Senator
From: Teves, Thomas
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 8:28 AM
Subject: Re: Correspondence from Senator McCain
My son was murdered at the Aurora Theatre shooting I guess you missed that small portion of my note. I was always a loyal supporter but your losing me. I will never see my son on this earth again.
So the Senator responds with a form letter, obviously my son in the Senator’s mind doesn’t count, since the response was a form letter, where is your humanity.
Sent from my iPhone
From: Teves, Thomas
Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2013 5:03 PM
To: Senator Jeff Flake
Subject: Re: Thank You For Contacting Me
Glad that I wrote about my murdered son and you responded with a form letter about Newton. Your humanity is lacking. I wonder how you would feel if your son was murdered and you got a form letter in return?
Sent from my iPhone
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com