DENVER–Senate Democrats say they posted a Twitter message accusing Colorado sheriffs of siding with criminals because one onlooker at the sheriffs’ gun-lawsuit press conference has an arrest record.
The Senate Majority Office issued a statement last week along with a photo of a man identified as Clint Webster, who can be seen standing in the crowd as Independence Institute research director David Kopel speaks from the podium at the packed May 17 press conference.
According to Senate Democrats, Webster has been convicted of felony menacing and assault.
The photo, originally posted on the ColoradoPols website, shows that the sheriffs “are quite literally standing with a criminal, and not just any criminal, a domestic violence offender who fired two shots from a Colt semi-automatic handgun at his wife,” said the Senate Majority Office press release.
The May 29 statement comes as the Senate Majority Office’s first public explanation of the much-discussed Twitter post, which came under heavy criticism after it appeared online within a few hours of the press conference.
The message said, “2day CO sheriffs stood in opposition of CO’s new gun laws, but not w/law-abiding citizens, but with criminals. #coleg #Sheriffs4Criminals.”
The post-tweet statement answers some questions while raising others. Still unknown is whether Senate President John Morse wrote or authorized the message.
More than 100 reporters, photographers and observers attended the jammed press event in the foyer of the Independence Institute’s Denver office. The Senate Majority Office referred to the sheriffs standing with “criminals,” indicating that there was more than one criminal at the event, but did not specify which of the other attendees had been convicted of a crime.
The tweet also says that the sheriffs stood “not w/law-abiding citizens.” Several of those who attended the event later said they have never been arrested and consider themselves law-abiding citizens.
Independence Institute president Jon Caldara said that the event was open to the public and that he has never met Webster.
“I have no idea who he [Webster] is,” said Caldara. “The room was packed. We knew the people who were speaking, but it was a press conference. Anyone can attend.”
Added Kopel, “Some guy shows up and stands there at a large event–you can’t really help that.” He suggested that those filing the lawsuit may have been “victimized by a photo-bomber.”
The lawsuit, filed May 17 in federal court, challenges the constitutionality of two of three gun-control bills approved by the state legislature and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in March. The measures limit ammunition-magazine capacity to no more than 15 rounds and require background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, including temporary transfers.
The plaintiffs include 55 of the 62 Colorado county sheriffs, along with the Colorado Farm Bureau, several gun-rights groups, and advocates for the disabled.
In its May 29 press release, the Senate Majority Office defended the newly signed gun laws, which are scheduled to take effect July 1.
“These laws are meant to prevent criminals–domestic violence offenders and convicted murderers from getting a gun,” says the statement.
“Why would the sheriffs oppose that? And why would they hold a press conference with a man convicted of shooting at his wife? In 2011, the background check system caught 38 murderers from having guns. 38 murderers. Why would anyone not want to prevent even more criminals from getting guns, much less sheriffs? The answer, they are elected politicians.”
The original tweet has spawned several Twitter parodies at #Sheriffs4Criminals, such as, “2day CO Senate Dems stood in opposition to U.S. Constitution, not w/law-abiding citizens, but with traitors.”
Another reads, “2day Co sheriffs opposed CO’s new gun laws protecting law abiding citizens from government criminals.”