President Obama speaks in Denver on Wednesday. (Susan Walsh / Associated…)
DENVER – President Obama appealed to Americans to set aside "the people who take absolute positions" on gun issues and "put ourselves in the other person’s shoes," as he appealed for compromise to revive flagging hopes for new gun control measures.
Urban residents who fear gun crime need to listen to those in rural areas who have grown up with guns as a positive part of their lives, Obama said. But at the same time, gun owners need to "understand what it feels like for that mom whose son was randomly shot."
"We’ve got to get past some of the rhetoric," Obama said, which "breaks down trust and is so over the top that it just shuts down all discussion."
Negotiations in the Senate over gun control measures backed by Obama have stalled over expanded background checks for gun purchases. Opponents of background checks say they fear that if the law requires individuals to document the sale of most firearms, those receipts could eventually form the basis of a national system to register gun owners. Supporters have repeatedly denied that would happen.
As the talks drag on, administration officials worry that their efforts are losing momentum. Some polls that showed public support for new gun measures rising after last year’s mass shootings have now shown declines as memories fade.
In an effort to give new impetus to the campaign, Obama flew to Denver and plans to speak next week in Connecticut, where the shooting of schoolchildren and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School are still a painfully fresh memory.
Colorado also was the scene last year of a highly publicized mass shooting, in which 12 people were killed and 58 injured at a movie theater in the suburb of Aurora. In response, the state Legislature recently adopted, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed, gun control legislation similar to some of Obama’s proposals, including expanded background checks.
Speaking after he and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. met privately with families of some of the Aurora victims, Obama held Colorado up as an example of a gun-loving state that still embraces “common sense” curbs on firearm and ammunition purchases.
The state's new laws are a "model of what’s possible," Obama said, praising the state’s many "proud hunters and sportsmen" who supported efforts to make it harder for ineligible buyers to get their hands on firearms.
"There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our 2nd Amendment rights," Obama said. "I’ve got stacks of letters in my office from proud gun owners, whether they’re for sport or protection or collection, who tell me how deeply they cherish their rights and don’t want them infringed upon – but they still want us to do something to stop the epidemic of gun violence."
"It’s now been just over 100 days since the murder of 20 innocent children and six brave educators in Newtown, Conn., shocked this country into doing something to protect our kids,” Obama said. “But consider this: Over those 100 days or so, more than 100 times as many Americans have fallen victim to gun violence.... And every day we wait to do something about it, even more are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."
Standing behind Obama as he spoke at this city’s police academy were dozens of uniformed officers, including several who responded to last summer’s theater shooting. The audience of 500 was heavy with law enforcement officials from across the state.
Across town, several Colorado sheriffs joined pro-gun activists for a rally to speak out against the state’s new gun control laws.
Jane Dougherty, whose sister was killed in Newtown, was among those Colorado residents who lobbied the Legislature to pass background checks and limits on magazine ammunition.
After Obama's remarks Wednesday, she reacted angrily to the idea that memories of last year’s shootings could be losing their power to motivate lawmakers.
"It better not be," she said. "Families like mine aren't going to let it."
A White House spokesman said Obama wasn't pushing for a vote for political reasons but rather because “the victims of Newtown and of Aurora and Virginia Tech, and the countless lesser-known victims of gun violence across America, deserve at least a vote."
Politics, however, were not absent from Obama’s mind as he traveled West. After speaking in Denver, Obama headed for San Francisco for fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The dinners in the homes of wealthy supporters are among several that Obama has pledged to hold as he works to boost the long-shot Democratic campaign to gain back the House majority for his final two years in office.
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