Susan Walsh, Associated Press
DENVER — Ratcheting up pressure for Congress to limit access to guns, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that steps taken recently by Colorado to tighten its gun laws show "there doesn't have to be a conflict" between keeping citizens safe and protecting Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.
"I believe there's no conflict between reconciling these realities," Obama said in Denver, where he was stepping up his call for background checks for all gun purchases and renew his demand that Congress at least vote on banning assault weapons and limiting access to large-capacity ammunition magazines.
"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.
In danger of losing congressional momentum on the issue, Obama went to Colorado — which has a deep-rooted hunting tradition and where gun ownership is a cherished right — to highlight state efforts to tighten gun laws. His intent is to use Colorado's example and public pressure to prod reluctant members of Congress to act.
Colorado recently expanded background checks for gun purchases and placed restrictions on ammunition magazines. Prospects for passage of similar measures by Congress appear bleak, largely because of concerns by conservative Republicans and moderate Democrats who come down more on the side of gun rights.
Obama said there is a middle ground.
"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," he said.
In Denver, Obama met with 19 law enforcement officers, activists and elected officials at the Denver Police Academy, not far from the Aurora suburb where a gunman last summer killed 12 people in a movie theater. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for James Holmes, the accused shooter.
Among those participating in the discussion with Obama was Sandy Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Redfield Ghawi, 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."
Phillips 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 before the meeting. "I hope he keeps pushing for the assault weapons ban and I hope he keeps pushing for magazine restrictions."
During a portion of the meeting that was open to the media, Obama said mental health challenges and cracks in the system are contributing factors in deadly mass shootings, along with guns.
He also said there was no doubt about "the kind damage that can be done when you don't have strong background checks, when you have criminals who are easily able to get their hands on weapons that at least in some cases outgun what law enforcement has. ... "We should be able to do something about it in a sensible way."
With Congress due to return to Washington on Monday after a two-week break, Obama has been scheduling high-profile events on gun legislation to push lawmakers and sustain a drive for some kind of action more than three months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Last week, he called for legislation while flanked by 21 mothers who lost children to gun violence. "I haven't forgotten those kids," he declared then.
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