Obama holds Colorado up as model; Maketa leads protest
DENVER • President Barack Obama appealed for support of universal background checks here Wednesday, holding up Colorado’s recent gun legislation up as a model for the nation, as legislation on Capitol Hill falters.
"I’ve come to Denver today in particular because Colorado is proving a model of what’s possible," Obama said, addressing a crowd of supporters at the Denver Police Academy while opponents rallied outside. "I put forward a series of common sense proposals in-line with what’s been done here in Colorado."
Those proposals have been losing traction in the U.S. Senate where lawmakers are expected to begin debating gun-control measures including universal background checks as soon as next week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat has backed off proposals to ban assault-weapons and high-capacity magazines, indicating the bill wouldn’t have passed with those measures included.
"I’m going to need your help," Obama said. "This is not easy, and I’ll be blunt, for a lot of members of Congress this is tough for them."
He asked the public to call their congressional delegation in support of background checks to help cut through the well-financed and vocal opposition to gun-control measures.
Among those in opposed to universal background checks is U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs, who said Wednesday the measure wouldn’t keep guns from criminals.
"He’s seizing upon laws that are extremely controversial, that passed without Republican support and created a backlash among the populous," Lamborn said. "And that, somehow, is a model for going forward?"
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun bills into law last month: a ban on magazines that contain more than 15 bullets, background checks on all gun sales including those between private parties and a fee for all background checks.
Those issues drew hours of testimony at the state Capitol and filled the building with opponents to the gun laws.
"I don’t think it was as divisive out of the building," Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora said, who authored the background check legislation. "The majority of people from both parties supported closing loopholes in background checks."
Colorado lawmakers reported receiving death threats from the public over the gun control issues and two arrests were made for threatening messages.
Obama said there shouldn’t be such a divide on the matter of background checks, even in Colorado where there is a proud gun-owning heritage.
"There doesn’t have to be a conflict in reconciling these realities," Obama said. "There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights."
But, even the location of the president’s remarks Wednesday sparked argument. Some said the Denver Police Academy inappropriately brought law enforcement officials, who might not support the proposed laws, into the issue.
About a mile from the academy, 16 Colorado county sheriffs rallied against the president’s speech and gun regulations.
"It was really a show that law enforcement is not behind these gun bills and nor are they on message with President Obama," said El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, after attending the rally. "And it’s not just sheriffs, there are numerous chiefs who are speaking out and saying these laws are not what we need."
Maketa said the claim that universal background checks or bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines will make the public safer is an outright lie.
"All these gun control measures do is they restrict law abiding citizens while empowering criminals," he said.
Denver Police Chief Robert White introduced the president and praised the funding Obama’s administration has provided to law enforcement, but mentioned nothing about the gun laws.
Police officers stood behind the president.
Obama said background checks are common sense.
"If you’re selling a gun, wouldn’t you want to know who you’re selling it to?" Obama asked. "Wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want in your conscience to know that the person you’re selling to isn’t going to commit a crime?"
Lamborn said he would prefer not to have the extra paperwork especially if he is selling a gun to a family member.
"I see too many problems with it to be able to support it," Lamborn said. "For one thing it really doesn’t seem to me that it would have stopped some of the recent tragedies."
He said there are too many criminals and those with mental illness who can find their way around laws.
Before his 30 minute speech, Obama met with a number of officials and Coloradans including the governor; Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia; U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado; and three people impacted by the Aurora theatre shooting one family member of a victim of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School.
"He understands that Colorado is a state where we value our gun heritage," Garcia said, after the president’s speech. "I talked about the fact that I’ve been a gun owner for 40 years and a hunter for 40 years."
Garcia said Obama wanted to know how to engage hunters and firearm owners to help them see the importance of gun safety measures.
"It is a challenging issue," he said. "We’re not trying to take anybody’s guns away. … We’re simply trying to reduce the number of innocent victims from gun violence.