DENVER -- President Clinton brought his crusade for tougher federal gun control laws to Colorado on Wednesday, vigorously promoting local efforts to put on the state ballot an initiative to require background checks of all buyers at gun shows.
The president's visit came just eight days before what promises to be an emotional first anniversary of the tragedy at nearby Littleton, where two students at Columbine High School shot to death 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves.
''You deserve a national government that follows your lead,'' Clinton told several thousand gun control supporters at the Colorado Convention Center.
The president spoke with great fervor and often with emotion. He told his audience that the eyes of the nation are on Colorado, ''a state with a broken heart.''
If the initiative effort here succeeds, ''other states will follow your lead,'' Clinton predicted.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican who also backs the initiative, stayed away from the rally, saying he did not want to participate in an event at which Clinton sought to pressure a GOP-controlled Congress to act on the gun show issue.
But Clinton insisted: ''This is not about party politics. It's about saving people's lives.''
Last year's Columbine shootings spurred the Senate to approve several gun control proposals, including a controversial bid to ensure that all those who buy firearms at gun shows are subjected to background checks that could take as long as three days to complete. Such checks are designed to prevent felons from obtaining guns.
Largely because of opposition to the gun show provision, all of the gun control measures have been stalled in the House.
In Washington on Wednesday, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Clinton blaming Democrats for the impasse on the legislation. House Democrats, Hyde said, have chosen ''sound bites at the expense of sound policies.''
But Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the panel's top Democrat, said that a compromise Hyde is promoting contains ''the same old loopholes'' as previous proposals.
Outside the hall where Clinton spoke in Denver, several hundred anti-gun control demonstrators noisily protested. One person in the auditorium interrupted Clinton's remarks, shouting a protest against U.S. policy toward Iraq. He was quickly shouted down as the president told him: ''Sir, this meeting is not about you and not about me. So would you please let me give the speech?''
The focus of the rally was the gun show issue, which Clinton called ''a serious problem.'' The rally was sponsored by SAFE Colorado, a grass-roots organization leading the petition drive to put the initiative on the state ballot.
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