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Obama faces mixed reception in Colorado over gun fight

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DENVER — When President Obama arrives here Wednesday to cheer the state's newly passed gun control laws, don't expect Colorado's county sheriffs to join in the celebration.

At a forum Tuesday, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith blamed the state's gun control agenda in part on the White House and characterized this week's presidential visit as a "victory dance."

Critics of the measures have accused the White House and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg of orchestrating the state legislature's push for gun control. The three bills passed the Democrat-controlled legislature last month without a single Republican vote.

"In my opinion, there were marching orders from Bloomberg and from the president, 'Get this done. We want to own some ground in Colorado,'" said Sheriff Smith at a Tuesday panel on gun control sponsored by the Denver Post. "They've done it. The president's planning to come here and do, I think, a little bit of a victory dance tomorrow that, 'We got this passed in Colorado.'"

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Colorado Democrat, drew laughs when he told the sheriff: "We were having a pretty good discussion until you wanted to jump in on the president."

Colorado was the first Western state to adopt tough gun-control measures in reaction to 2012 mass shootings at Aurora and Newtown, Conn. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bills March 20 despite heated opposition from gun-rights advocates.

Mr. Smith chided state Democrats for failing to "shutting out" the Colorado sheriffs in discussions prior to the introduction of the legislation, in order to push through the bills as quickly as possible.

"It really was at the state level a rush to legislate," said Mr. Smith, "and I believe they wanted to do it because they knew that emotions and public sentiment would move back to more of a center and they had to get it done before that."

Mr. Obama is slated to deliver remarks Wednesday on Colorado's newly approved gun measures at the Denver Police Academy, as well as meet with local law enforcement and community leaders. The president is also scheduled to discuss gun control next week at Connecticut's University of Hartford, about 50 miles from the site of the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

State law enforcement officials are divided on the gun-control measures. The County Sheriffs of Colorado opposed the bills, while the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police supported them.

In Colorado, police chiefs oversee municipalities and are typically appointed by elected city leaders, while county sheriffs are elected directly by the voters and tend to cover larger, more rural areas.

The bills, which go into effect July 1, would limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, including magazines that can be readily converted to hold more than 15 rounds; mandate universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers, and require gun owners to pay for their background checks.

Several county sheriffs have announced that they will not enforce the magazine limit, calling it unenforceable. More than a dozen Colorado sheriffs are slated to attend a press conference Wednesday shortly before the president's visit to "share their perspective on Colorado's restrictive gun laws and President Obama's advocacy visit to the state."

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