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Denver police chief Robert White pushes for progress on gun control

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Speaking one week after a former Denver resident shot six people dead in Wisconsin, and less than a month after James Holmes killed twelve and injured dozens more in Aurora, Denver police chief Robert White told Westword it's time to make progress on gun control. We spoke with White over the weekend at a march focused on gang violence, during which Mayor Michael Hancock said the problem goes beyond gun control debates.

But White, who emphasized the importance of community members partnering with the police, believes there is a serious need to look at gun control.

"Gun policies are absolutely critical," White said. "I certainly value the right to bear arms, but I've yet to figure out the real purpose that certain firearms have. Assault weapons...they serve no practical use. You can't use them for hunting. We're not soldiers in a war abroad.... I have a lot of questions about assault weapons."

His comments make him the latest local official to call for stricter gun policies in the wake of the theater massacre, in which suspect James Holmes was able to purchase one AR-15 assault rifle, one Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun and two 40-caliber Glock handguns. At a policy level, Representative Diana DeGette has proposed stricter regulation of Internet ammunition sales and Representative Ed Perlmutter has called for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

Both Governor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock have generally been quiet on gun control.

The loudest advocacy groups across the country have been pushing politicians, especially Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, to come up with a concrete plan to curb gun violence, most recently with TV ads running in Denver.

And now it seems that White, who took the position heading Denver's police department in October of 2011, also thinks it's time for change.

"While firearms is an issue, the greater issue is they get in the hands of the wrong individuals, so...more importantly, we need to look at the hands of the individuals that are getting it," he says.

Given the tragedy in Aurora, he says, "I certainly think the debate will continue. There's been a debate about gun control in this country as long as I've been a police officer, which has been forty years.... We've made some progress, but there's a lot of progress that we need to make."

He reiterates his push to get assault weapons off the streets. "What value do they really have in our society, in an urban environment? I think they have very little value."

When asked for his take on Governor Hickenlooper's gun control stance, or lack thereof, White says the subject can be a challenge for elected officials.

"That I don't know. I haven't been here that long," he says. "I know that he's concerned about it also. But at the same time, it's a balancing act. You...have to value our Constitution, which speaks to the right to bear arms, but at the same time, you've got to make sure that it's done reasonably, and you've got to look at the type of firearms that are accessible to individuals."

More from our Politics archive: "Obama campaign ads in Denver target viewers of Judge Judy (and Divorce Court!)"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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