President Obama calls Colorado gun control legislation 'practical progress'

President wants Congress to pass similar measures

DENVER - President Barack Obama called Colorado's recent gun control legislation "practical progress," during a speech at Denver's police academy on Wednesday afternoon.

In March, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills into law that limit the amount of ammunition allowed in magazines, required background checks for private gun sales and created a fee for background checks.

"I think that Colorado has shown that practical progress is possible by enacting tougher background checks that won’t infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners, but will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people," the president said. 

He called Hickenlooper "a wonderful governor."

In his speech, the president referenced the mass shootings in Columbine, Aurora and Newtown, Conn. He pointed out that Colorado was familiar with mass gun violence but was also a state with a culture of hunters and sportsmen.

"I'm here because I believe there's no conflict between reconciling these realities," he said. "There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights."

He said background checks were a good idea.

"If you're selling a gun, wouldn't you want to know who you are selling it to?" he asked.  "Wouldn't you want to know that the person you're selling it to isn't going to commit a crime?"

 "I don't believe weapons meant for theaters of war are meant for movie theaters," Obama told the crowd.

"There doesn't have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights," he said, noting that it's been just over 100 days since the shooting rampage that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and reignited the national debate over access to guns.

The president urged citizens to "get the facts" on his proposals.

"We're not proposing a gun registration system, we're proposing background checks for criminals," he said. "Why wouldn't you want to make it more difficult for a criminal to get his hands on a gun?"

Obama said Congress needs to take action to reduce gun violence.

"From the beginning of this effort, we’ve wanted law enforcement front and center in shaping the discussion and the reforms that emerge from it.  After all, you’re often the first to see the terrible consequences of gun violence," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Denver police Officer John Akins wrote on Facebook that he is upset about the location for the president's speech.

"Today, President Obama and Governor (John) Hickenlooper are going to use the Denver Police Academy as a prop to push a political agenda," Akins wrote on Facebook. "That hangar, the badge hanging on the wall, and the officers standing in the crowd will now be forever attached to the agenda of a political party and its push to strip Americans of their rights."

Read more about why that officer argued that the police department were being used as props:

The president was also scheduled to meet with Sandy Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter Jessica Ghawi was one of 12 people killed in the July 20, 2012 attack in an Aurora movie theater.

Phillips concedes that gun control is a difficult issue, and said she has spoken to numerous lawmakers in Washington who "want to do the right thing without it costing their jobs."

-- The President's push --

With Congress due to return to Washington after a two-week Easter break, Obama has been scheduling high-profile events on gun legislation to push lawmakers and sustain a drive for some kind of action aimed at curbing gun violence more than three months after the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

Last week Obama called for legislation while flanked by 21 mothers who lost children to gun violence. "I haven't forgotten those kids," he declared then.

On Monday, just before the planned start of the Senate's debate on gun legislation, Obama is scheduled to go to Hartford, Conn., where state lawmakers have announced a bipartisan agreement on gun legislation in response to the shootings at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School, which took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adult staff.

"If it were simple to pass measures through Congress that are very common sense but would reduce gun violence in America, those measures would have passed already," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. "And the president has always recognized that this is something that would be a challenge."

In selecting Colorado, Obama is showcasing a state with a long centrist tradition that prizes its Western frontier heritage. But an influx of young coastal transplants and growing Hispanic voter clout have helped Democrats win a string of victories in the state.

Even before the Sandy Hook massacre energized gun control proponents, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said he was open to new gun control measures in the state.

Colorado Republicans fought the new legislation, contending that Democrats overreached and will be punished by the voters in November. Democrats contend that the measures are generally popular, especially among the suburban women who decide Colorado elections.

Obama's trip comes a day after a study commissioned by the National Rifle Association, which has opposed Obama's gun control measures, recommended that schools have trained, armed staffers to increase security for students. The American Federation of Teachers denounced the proposal.

A proposed ban on assault weapons has little hope of passage and the prospects for barring large-capacity magazines also seem difficult. Key senators have been unable to reach a bipartisan compromise that would require federal background checks for gun transactions between private individuals. Federal background checks currently apply only to sales handled by licensed gun dealers.

Carney said administration officials were looking for middle ground.

"We are working with lawmakers of both parties, and trying to achieve a compromise that can make this happen. Especially when it comes to the background checks," Carney told reporters. But he reiterated Obama's insistence that other measures get a vote.

"There's no reason we can't do this unless politics is getting in the way," he told the crowd in Denver on Wednesday.

In addition to his stop in Denver, Obama will travel to San Francisco to attend fundraisers Wednesday and Thursday for Democratic Party organizations.

-- County sheriffs in opposition --

Several dozen gun supporters booed Obama's motorcade as it arrived at the police academy.

About three hours before the president's speech, 16 local sheriff's in Colorado held a separate news conference.  The sheriffs, including Larimer County's Justin Smith, El Paso County's Terry Maketa and John Cooke of Weld County, voiced opposition to the new gun laws.

Read the complete story about the sheriffs' rally:

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