Obama faces Colo. sheriffs’ gun bill protest

DENVER | President Obama received a chilly reception at a stop here Wednesday to promote federal gun control legislation from Colorado sheriffs still fuming over the state’s recently approved restrictions on firearms.

“I’ve come here to Denver today because Colorado in particular is proving a model for what’s possible,” said Mr. Obama against a backdrop of police officers in remarks at the Denver Police Academy.

Two hours earlier, sheriffs from 17 counties held a rally at a nearby park to lambast the state measures and call out the White House for using Colorado as a “guinea pig” for its national gun-control agenda.

“If the issue that we’re focusing on is community safety and reducing violence, it could have been done without some of these very serious impositions on our citizens,” said Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith. “The fact they ignored that and the president showed up for a victory lap, I think, is a slap in the face to Coloradans.”

The president’s Colorado visit comes as part of a barnstorming tour to drum up enthusiasm for Senate gun control legislation in the wake of two mass shootings in 2012. One of those, the July 20 theater shooting in Aurora, took place less than 10 miles from Wednesday’s event.

Mr. Obama urged supporters to advocate in favor of a federal bill to require universal background checks at town hall meetings during the congressional recess. He also tried to counter the perception among gun-rights advocates that the federal proposal could lead to firearms confiscation.

“We’re not proposing a gun registration system, we’re proposing background checks for criminals,” Mr. Obama said. “Don’t just listen to what some advocates or folks who have an interest in this thing are saying — look at the actual legislation. That’s what happened here in Colorado.”

That’s not exactly what happened in Colorado, according to county sheriffs, who accused the White House and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of ramming the gun-control measures through the Democrat-controlled legislature without consulting local law enforcement.

“We are here to remind you that the voices of the 62 elected Colorado sheriffs were silenced by the leaders of the majority party in the statehouse,” Sheriff Smith said. “Your governor found it too inconvenient to allot even 15 minutes to hear the concerns of the sheriffs of his state.”

Sheriff Smith also criticized the Denver Police Department for putting pressure on officers to appear on stage with the president during his speech at the Denver Police Academy. At least one officer filed a complaint this week with the city’s ethics board over the request, saying it violated police rules on appearing in uniform at a political event.

A department memo obtained by KUSA-TV in Denver offered police the opportunity to appear with the president, but Sheriff Smith said officers told him that they were “coerced into being there.”

“I can tell you I’ve personally talked to Denver police officers who’ve assured me they had felt pressure, that they were told, ‘You’ll be at this event,’” said Sheriff Smith. “Only when officers refused to attend were they then were allowed to go to their normal districts. They certainly knew they could not stand up here today [with sheriffs] without potential repercussions.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said police officers support the president’s gun control package.

“I think it’s irrefutable that a majority of law enforcement professionals in America support common-sense measures that are at issue now and subject to votes in Congress,” said Mr. Carney. “I don’t think anybody would argue with that.”

The president also participated in a roundtable on gun violence with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Colorado elected officials, law enforcement officers and relatives of those killed in the Aurora and Columbine High School shootings.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun control bills March 20 that would put a 15-round limit on ammunition magazines, mandate universal background checks for gun buyers, and require those buyers to pay for their own background checks.

During the news conference, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa handed an ammunition magazine to a fellow sheriff, then said the act of doing so would violate the newly passed laws, which take effect July 1.

“This is about criminalizing law-abiding citizens,” Sheriff Maketa said.

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