With rows of uniformed police officers providing the backdrop, President Barack Obama called for Congress to act on federal gun control legislation during a visit to the Denver Police Academy Wednesday, singling out Colorado lawmakers for taking the lead by banning high capacity magazines and requiring universal background checks for all gun transfers.
“We’re not going to just wait for the next Newtown or the next Aurora to act,” he said, referring to December’s school shooting in Connecticut and last summer’s theater shooting, which took place just a few miles from where he made his remarks.
Obama focused on legislation similar to that passed in Colorado that Congress may begin debating as early as next week: universal background checks and limiting the number of bullets ammunition magazines can hold.
He said that “the type of assault rifle used in Aurora, when paired with a high capacity magazine, has only one purpose: to pump out as many bullets as possible as fast as possible.”
“I don’t believe that weapons designed for theaters of war have a place in movie theaters,” he said.
Obama said he chose Denver to deliver his remarks — before a select audience that didn’t include the general public — because it’s a state with a deep firearms tradition that nevertheless passed the strongest gun control laws yet of any Western state, albeit with a Democratic-controlled state legislature and a Democratic governor.
During an often-brutal lawmaking session, Colorado served as a proxy battleground for national interests on both sides of the debate. The state capitol was the scene of numerous protests as the bills made their way through the legislative process. At least two people were arrested for threatening lawmakers.
So far, Hickenlooper has signed into law three pieces of legislation — laws that ban magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition, that require universal background checks for all gun transfers and that require gun buyers to pay for their background checks.
An attempted de facto ban on assault weapons was killed by its sponsor, as was a measure that would have banned concealed weapons on college campuses.
Obama also acknowledged his surroundings, praising the police and saying that the gun bills to be heard soon in Congress will make the streets safer and the job of law enforcement easier.
But as much as the setting may have given the impression of support from Colorado’s law enforcement communities, Colorado’s newly passed gun laws are far from universally popular among its men and women in blue.
A few hours before Obama’s appearance, more than a dozen Colorado sheriffs gathered in a nearby park to express their opposition to the state’s new laws.
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, one of the organizers of the counter-event, said the new laws were an erosion of constitutional rights.
“While these dedicated county sheriffs stand here publicly for the rights of their citizens,” he said, “the president later today will be hiding behind the walls at the Denver Police Academy, surrounding with a handpicked audience of gun-control supporters and police employees coerced [into attending] his political rally as he declares victory for the [Colorado] Gov. John Hickenlooper.”
While the Colorado Association of Police Chiefs supports the new laws, County Sheriffs of Colorado — a trade association representing all of Colorado’s elected county sheriffs — issued a position paper before the bills were signed, calling them ineffective and a violation of the Second Amendment.
“Colorado sheriffs know first hand that strict gun control laws do not deter criminals from getting firearms illegally and committing crimes,” the statement reads. “Rather, they hurt law-abiding citizens who may be left unprotected because law enforcement cannot arrive in time to stop a criminal’s bullet once he has pulled the trigger.”
It’s not only sheriffs who are irritated at the show of support the law enforcement backdrop implied. One police officer complained to the Denver Ethics Board, arguing that it should have at least provided an advisory opinion about whether uniformed officers, some of whom were on duty, should be used as political props.
“They’re using our brand to take sides,” Denver Police technician Danny Veith told 9news. “Our image should not be used for one political party or another.”
Obama acknowledged the divisions in the country over gun laws, telling gun owners who believe the government is out to confiscate their weapons to “get the facts.”
“The government’s us,” he said. “These officials are elected by you.”
Those officials, he said, are trying to do nothing other than “prevent another group of families from grieving like the families of Newtown and Aurora have grieved,” he said.
“If these reforms keep one person from murdering dozens of innocent children … isn’t it worth fighting for?”
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