DENVER -- In a speech before law enforcement officers at the Denver Police Academy, President Barack Obama called Colorado a model for the rest of the country for proving "what's possible" in advancing gun control.
The speech is part of the president's effort to get Congress to pass gun control legislation including universal background checks for gun owners.
"This is, obviously, a state that has suffered the tragedy of two of the worst mass shootings in our history," Obama said also noting that Colorado is a state that "treasures its Second Amendment rights."
"I'm here because I believe there's no conflict between reconciling these realities," Obama said. "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."
Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law three Democratic-sponsored bills, including mandatory universal background checks on all gun purchases and transfers and a ban on high-capacity magazines of 15 rounds or more.
The landmark legislation has made Colorado a symbolic vanguard for the country; but the legislative process at the Capitol has also exposed just how contentious and politically risky the issue can be.
Republicans have argued that Hickenlooper and other Colorado Democrats have become pawns of outside forces from the White House — Vice President Joe Biden called several state lawmakers to thank them during the debate — to New York City, whose mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has spent millions in a nationwide push to pass gun control legislation.
Congress is due to return to Washington Wednesday after a two-week Easter break. Obama has scheduled several high-profile events aimed at pushing lawmakers toward some kind of action after the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton Conn. and the Aurora theater shooting.
The Senate could begin debating gun control legislation as early as next week. CNN reported Senate negotiators have not given up hope that bipartisan compromise is possible on the issue of background checks for guns, according to sources familiar with the talks.
Colo sheriffs protest new gun laws
Hours before the president's speech, more than a dozen Colorado sheriffs held a "pre-buttal" to speak out against the Colorado legislation.
Sixteen sheriffs held a noon news conference at Denver's Fred Thomas Park -- about a mile from Obama's speech.
"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 said.
Smith accused Obama and fellow Democrats of exploiting the tragedies at Sandy Hook and Aurora and said the gun control bills passed by the Colorado legislature won’t prevent those events from happening again.
The sheriffs of El Paso, Weld, Elbert and Mesa counties (among others) took part in the rally.
Sheriffs are elected in Colorado and generally are Republican.
Smith of Larimer County said Obama's visit was a "victory lap" and a "slap in the face to all Coloradans."
"CSCO will not waiver on our defense of the Constitution and will stand to preserve every constituent's right to possess a firearm," the paper said.
The Colorado Association of Police Chiefs however supports one of the new laws, including a ban on high-capacity magazines over 15 rounds and universal background checks for gun owners.
Broomfield Police Chief Thomas Deland, president of the association, has said 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."
Denver police officer raises ethical question over visit
A Denver police officer said it was improper for the department to host Obama's visit because it implied the department endorsed gun control measures.
"My concern is our police department is being used as a vehicle for partisan political influence," Officer Danny Veith told the Denver Post.
Veith asked for an ethics board decision. The board does not meet again until April 18 and was not able to address Veith's concerns.
Officers' attendance at the event is voluntary, unless an officer is there as part of the security detail, said Denver Police Chief Robert White.AlertMe