DENVER–President Obama’s speech here Wednesday was intended to showcase Colorado as a model for gun-control reform, but instead the event may have illustrated why his push for tougher laws is rapidly losing steam.
Evidence of the political backlash against the Democratic legislature’s gun-control package was on full display during the president’s visit. The presidential motorcade was greeted by a crowd of protesters outside the Denver Police Academy shouting slogans like, “You can’t take our guns!”
Shortly beforehand, sheriffs from 17 counties held a press conference at a nearby park to decry the Obama administration for taking what Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith described as a “victory lap” at the expense of law-abiding gun owners.
“While these dedicated county sheriffs stand here publicly for the rights of their citizens, the president, hiding behind the walls of the Denver Police Academy, will surround himself with a handpicked audience of gun-control supporters and police employees coerced to attend his political rally as he declares victory,” said Smith.
The president was indeed surrounded by supporters, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet, but one prominent Democrat was missing: Sen. Mark Udall, who faces reelection in 2014 and has said little about the gun-control debate roiling Colorado.
Despite the escalating tensions, Obama cited Colorado as an example of how those on both sides of the gun-control debate could work together to make “practical progress.”
“I’m here because I believe there doesn’t have to be a conflict between reconciling these realities,” said Obama. “There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights.”
Critics said the implication that Colorado somehow avoided conflict and found common ground in passing three gun-control bills doesn’t exactly jibe with reality. The bills were approved without Republican votes and despite overwhelming opposition from gun-rights supporters, who flooded the state capitol during hearings.
“In holding Colorado up as a model for passing tough new gun-control laws, President Obama is pushing a model that will fail in Washington,” said Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) in a statement. “Colorado Democrats rammed these bills through the state legislature in a highly partisan and contentious manner without gaining the support of a single Republican lawmaker.”
Lamborn added that because the president “cannot work in a bipartisan manner, his gun-control measures are doomed to failure in Washington.”
Efforts by the County Sheriffs of Colorado to meet with the governor were rebuffed, said Smith. The group ultimately opposed the gun-control measures.
“Why was it too inconvenient to listen to an opposing viewpoint? The answer lies in agenda-driven politics,” said Smith. “Gun-control advocates were keenly aware that they had a short window of opportunity to exploit the emotions surrounding the tragedies in Newton and Aurora.”
More than 100 gun-rights supporters attended the sheriffs’ event, with some carrying signs with messages like, “We the People Believe in God and Guns Not Obama or Hickenlooper.”
The governor signed three bills into law March 20 that would limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, as well as those that can be readily converted to hold more than 15 rounds; mandate universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers, and require gun buyers to pay for those transfers.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the laws are impossible to enforce because sheriffs have no idea which magazines are purchased before the bills go into effect July 1. At one point he handed a magazine to a fellow sheriff, which he noted would be against the law come July.
“When we’re done here today, let’s go to the capitol and let’s let those legislators know we will not be silenced, we will not go away, and we will not be the sheep they want us to be,” said Maketa.
The president clearly wanted to credit Coloradans for their unity on the gun-control issue, but given the state’s increasingly unavoidable rift, his praise had the ring of wishful thinking.
“I want to thank the people of Colorado for coming together in sensible ways,” said Obama. “Let’s see if we can get the whole country to do so.”