WASHINGTON (AP) — In danger of losing congressional momentum, President Barack Obama is drawing attention to Colorado’s newly passed gun control laws as he applies public pressure on Congress to pass similar federal measures.
Obama was visiting Denver Wednesday, stepping up his call for universal background checks for gun buyers as well as his demands for Congress to at least vote on an assault weapons ban and limits on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
The trip is heavy with political symbolism. Colorado expanded background checks and placed restrictions on magazines despite being a state with a deep-rooted hunting tradition, where gun ownership is a cherished right. Moreover, Obama will meet with law enforcement officials and community leaders at the Denver Police Academy, not far from the Aurora suburb where a gunman last summer killed 12 people in a movie theater. The president’s trip is occurring in the same week that prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty for James Holmes, accused of carrying out the Aurora rampage.
Among those participating in the Denver discussion with Obama was Sandy Phillips, the mother of 24-year-old Jessica Redfield Ghawi, who died in the Aurora shooting. She conceded 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.”
She said she is counting on Obama to press the issue.
“We need to have universal background checks for every sale, that’s a minimum,” she said in an interview ahead of Obama’s appearance. “I hope he keeps pushing for the assault weapons ban and I hope he keeps pushing for magazine restrictions.”
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. Several county sheriffs have vowed not to enforce the new gun restrictions. 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.
With just days left before the Senate begins its debate, there were signs that sweeping congressional efforts to address gun violence have flagged.
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.
Besides his stop in Denver, Obama will travel to San Francisco to attend fundraisers Wednesday and Thursday for Democratic Party organizations.