DENVER - More than a dozen Colorado sheriffs spoke out Wednesday against additional gun control measures as President Barack Obama visits Denver to tout Colorado's newest gun laws.
Sixteen sheriffs held a noon news conference at Denver's Fred Thomas Park, calling it a "pre-buttal" to Obama's "advocacy visit" at 3 p.m. The rally was about a mile from the Denver Police Academy, where the president met with law enforcement and community leaders to discuss the gun control package recently signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
"We are here to provide a voice to the millions of honest, law-abiding Coloradans who were ignored by their governor as well as by the majority (Democratic) party at the State House," Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith told a crowd of gun supporters, who whistled and shouted "Yee-HAW!" as the uniformed sheriffs stood in line, some holding up an American flag.
"We watched the president, New York billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the leaders of his party as they're now throwing their political clout behind continued efforts to pose yet more and more gun control laws on Colorado," Smith said.
The sheriff accused Obama of avoiding public debate with people who hold opposing views.
"While these dedicated county sheriffs stand here publicly for the rights of their citizens, the president later today will be hiding behind the walls at the Denver Police Academy, surrounded with a handpicked audience of gun-control supporters and police employees coerced (into attending) his political rally as he declares victory for the Denver Gov. John Hickenlooper," Smith added.
Smith said Obama and fellow Democrats are exploiting the tragedies of deadly shooting rampages at an Aurora movie theater and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He said a package of Colorado gun control legislation recently passed by Democratic lawmakers and signed by Hickenlooper would not have prevented those mass shootings.
"Colorado sheriffs know what dangers their communities face. You see, we enforce the laws to protect our citizens from those who want to steal their property and harm them or their families," Smith said.
"The problem isn't that we don't have enough laws to protect our community. The problem is that the system doesn't hold criminals accountable for their crimes."
What would help, Smith said, is to provide patrol officers with real-time "access to the information that would allow them to disarm felons in Colorado. Under the current system, officers on the beat have no access to a database or a list of felons who are prohibited by state and federal law from possessing firearms."
-- Sheriff Maketa: Gov. Hickenlooper lied --
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa drew cheers and applause for criticizing the new state gun laws and calling Hickenlooper a liar.
"Give 'em hell, Terry," someone shouted from the crowd.
"I'm sorry to say this, but our governor has lied to the citizens of this state, and I have no problem telling him that directly," Maketa said.
"Because in July he stood up and said to national news media that gun control would most likely not have prevented the incident in the Aurora theater. He said that individuals that are that ill and want to carry out that kind of devastation will probably not follow any restrictions in place," the sheriff said.
"But what (Hickenlooper) said is, 'We should have this debate.' That was a lie…that debate did not take place," Maketa said.
The sheriff said new gun-control legislation was "ramrodded through. There was no articulation of the benefits of it. There was no debate."
Maketa criticized a new law restricting people from acquiring new gun magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds. Anyone who currently possesses a magazine that holds more than 15 rounds can keep it, but if they transfer or sell the magazine, they will face a misdemeanor charge.
Maketa held up two gun magazines before the crowd.
"Is there anybody here who can tell me which of these magazines…is an illegal magazine?" the sheriff asked.
Maketa said even the veteran sheriffs couldn't tell by sight which magazine will be illegal, adding that means officers will only know the law has been broken after a violent crime has been committed.
Maketa then handed a magazine to a fellow sheriff and said, after July 1, that act would be a crime.
-- Criminalizing law-abiding citizens --
"This is about criminalizing law-abiding citizens. These laws will have no deterrent effect whatsoever on the tragedy that occurred in Aurora. It had no effect on the tragedy that occurred in my county just two weeks ago or the pizza delivery individual up in Denver," Maketa said about the killing of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements and part-time pizza deliveryman Nate Leon. Authorities suspect parolee Evan Ebel killed the two men with an illegally obtained handgun. A Commerce City woman has been arrested for allegedly providing the gun.
But supporters say the restriction on high-capacity magazines will make it harder for someone armed with a semiautomatic gun to mow people down, as James Holmes is accused of doing at the Aurora Century 16 theater last July.
-- Victims back new laws --
"My brother was killed by a person with a hundred-round magazine," Megan Sullivan, whose 27-year-old older brother, Alex, was killed in the theater attack while celebrating his 27th birthday, said at the bill signing, the Denver Post reported.
"He didn't have a chance," the sister said.
Maketa, however, sees the new gun laws as a violation of people's Second Amendment right to bear arms that will not make society safer.
"This is an infringement on our rights as law-abiding citizens and I would be remiss if I did not say…the government didn't grant us the Second Amendment," the sheriff said. "We had those rights before this country was even formed as humans. The constitution is what protected those rights from government intrusion."
"Yeah," people in the crowd said.
The rally shows the divide between big city police chiefs and county sheriff's over the new gun laws and what they consider the best ways to protect their citizens and their community.
The Colorado Association of Police Chiefs have been in favor of the gun control bills, but the County Sheriffs of Colorado have not.
The sheriffs attending the news conference were:
-Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith
-Weld County Sheriff John Cooke
-El Paso County Sheriff Terrry Maketa
-Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap
-Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario
-Jackson County Sheriff Scott Fischer
-Custer County Sheriff Fred Jobe
-Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton
-Hinsdale County Sheriff Ron Bruce
-Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger
-Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey
-Fremont County Sheriff James Beicker
-Gilpin County Sheriff Bruce Hartman
-Prowers County Sheriff James Faull
-Sedgwick County Sheriff Randy Peck
-Washington County Sheriff Larry Kuntz
Douglas County Sheriff Dave Weaver, who has been an outspoken opponent of the new gun bills, said he wanted to attend the rally but has a previous appointment.
In a position paper released in January, the County Sheriffs of Colorado wrote, "CSCO will not waiver on our defense of the Constitution and will stand to preserve every constituent's right to possess a firearm. We believe the Second Amendment is no less important as the other nine Amendments contained in the Bill of Rights. Also, gun control does not equate to lower crime rates, which is really what we strive for … The County Sheriffs of Colorado know first hand that strict gun control laws do not deter criminals from getting firearms illegally and committing crimes. Rather, they hurt law-abiding citizens who may be left unprotected because law enforcement cannot arrive in time to stop a criminal's bullet once he has pulled the trigger."
Read their opposition paper here: http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site36/2013/0129/20130129_113251_GunControlLegislation.pdf
The Colorado Association of Police Chiefs, on the other hand, said it supports a ban on high-capacity magazines because the data shows that such weapons are often used in the shootings of police officers. Broomfield Police Chief Thomas Deland, president of the association, said that the group supports the expansion of background checks because even though it won't stop all illegal gun sales, it will stop the "many people who easily can possess a weapon who should not be allowed to do so."
Obama is trying to put pressure on a reluctant Congress to pass federal gun control legislation.
Colorado has gone further than any state outside the Northeast in passing new gun laws. The state now prohibits the sale of magazines that hold more than 15 bullets and requires background checks for all private gun sales.