WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday appealed for common sense in the debate over gun control legislation, and urged Americans to read the proposals for themselves.
Citizens need to "get the facts," Obama said at the Denver Police Academy in Colorado. "We're not proposing a gun registration system. We're proposing background checks for criminals."
Obama praised Colorado for recently passing a gun buyer background checks law that he said both respects individual gun rights and keeps communities safer. He also made an impassioned plea for Congress to pass gun control measures that include a Senate bill that would expand background checks to cover nearly all gun sales. The president said background checks have "already prevented more than 2 million people from getting guns," and encouraged Americans to contact their elected representatives and to press those who oppose the bills for an explanation.
"Find out where your member of Congress stands," Obama urged. "If they’re not part of the 90 percent [who support universal background checks], ask them, why not? Why wouldn’t you want to make it more difficult for a dangerous criminal to get his or her hands on a gun?"
Obama also jabbed at the powerful gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, which he said stokes fear among gun owners and misleads the public.
"The opponents of some of these common sense laws have ginned up fears among responsible gun owners that have nothing to do with the facts," Obama said. "'We can't do background checks because the government's going to come take my guns away,'" Obama offered as an example. This isn't true, he said. "The government is us. These officials are elected by you.
"Nobody’s talking about creating a new system –- we’re talking about plugging holes, sealing a porous system," he said. The current system, which only requires background checks from federally licensed gun sellers, "is not safe, it’s not smart, and it’s not fair to responsible gun sellers who play by the rules."
Obama argued that there is "no conflict between … protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights." He said he has received "stacks of letters 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."
Since the Sandy Hook school massacre in December, Obama said, "more than 2,000 of our fellow citizens [have been] struck down" by guns. "Every day we wait to do something about it, even more are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."
Obama told the crowd of police cadets and guests, "If these reforms can keep one person from murdering dozens of innocent children, isn’t it worth fighting for? I believe it is. I’m going to keep giving it my best effort. I'm going to need your help."
The setting was rife with symbolism. Colorado has been the site of some of the nation's worst mass shootings, including the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater in August. The family members of shooting victims from both massacres were present at Obama's speech.
Tom Clements, the chief of the Colorado state prison system, was gunned down in the doorway of his home last month, a day before the state's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, was scheduled to sign the tougher gun control laws. Obama held the laws up as a model, saying "we need ... Americans of every background to stand up and say we’ve suffered too much pain"
Members of the Senate are scheduled to begin debate on various gun control proposals next week, when they return from the Easter recess. Proposals for universal background checks for gun sales appear to have the best chance of passing a full Senate vote, but Republican opponents, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have promised to filibuster attempts to hold votes on gun control bills.