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POLITICS: White House

Obama faces tough sell with sheriffs on gun control

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest,Gun Control,Firearms

President Obama will travel to Minnesota on Monday with hopes of building support in the law enforcement community for his set of gun control initiatives.

However, public safety officials outside urban pockets are increasingly hostile toward a sweeping set of proposals they say would do nothing to curtail violence.

As the details of Obama's gun plan emerged -- a ban on assault weapons, a prohibition on high-capacity ammunition clips and universal background checks -- urban law enforcement officials were among the most vocal proponents of the blueprint. However, over time, police officials in suburban and rural areas have expressed misgivings, with some becoming outspoken critics of the president's ideas.

That cultural gap has remained, and some analysts said it has become imperative for Obama to at least partially bridge it.

"It's essential for advocates of gun control to have the support of the law enforcement community," said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of the book "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America." "Americans are willing to give so much deference to first responders, but the problem is that many in law enforcement don't think the president's ideas are aimed at crime."

Exhibit A for that line of thinking is Sheriff Charles Jenkins, of Frederick County in Maryland. Unlike many of his fellow Maryland sheriffs, some of whom were deployed to Capitol Hill to champion the president's proposals, Jenkins is an unabashed critic of the president's recommendations for reducing gun violence.

"You shouldn't use these tragedies for political gain," he said. "Additional laws won't serve any purpose. In my world, the types of weapons [Obama] is talking about banning are sitting in gun safes."

Likewise, at least five state sheriffs associations, including Colorado, Florida and Georgia, along with a few hundred individual sheriffs have vowed to fight any new federal gun laws. Most of those sheriffs are elected and say that they represent the will of their constituents.

"The County Sheriffs of Colorado know first hand that strict gun control laws do not deter criminals from getting firearms illegally and committing crimes," the group said in a position paper. "Rather, they hurt law-abiding citizens who may be left unprotected because law enforcement cannot arrive in time to stop a criminal's bullet once he has pulled the trigger."

Much of the gun control debate has been framed as firearms enthusiasts versus gun control proponents, highlighted by the battles between the National Rifle Association and progressive groups and lawmakers.

But Obama's decision to travel cross-country to woo law enforcement leaders reinforces the necessity of winning over the group. Administration officials said Obama chose to speak to law enforcement officers in Minneapolis because the city had pushed new ideas to reduce gun violence and fostered a broader discussion on the issue in the community.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner