Clinton runs into gun lobby trouble at Columbine

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With the anniversary of America's worst school shootings just around the corner, President Bill Clinton travelled to Colorado yesterday to make an impassioned plea for tighter gun control laws.

The visit landed him in an emotional and political minefield in a state that has been deeply divided on gun issues since last April's carnage at Columbine High School outside Denver, which claimed the lives of 14 teenagers and a teacher. Undaunted by demonstrating gun lobbyists and a snub from Colorado's Republican governor, Bill Owens, the President made common cause with the father of one of the murdered Columbine students to call for thorough background checks on arms buyers at gun shows - a venue not covered by current gun-control legislation.

The Colorado chapter of the National Rifle Association cancelled an anti-Clinton demonstration it had been planning on the steps of the state Capitol building out of deference for the Columbine victims' families, but the atmosphere remained highly charged.

One gun lobbyist held up a sign at a street demonstration on Tuesday reading: "Rapists like Clinton want gun control." The sign was brandished in full view of Tom Mauser, father of the slain Columbine student Daniel Mauser, who was laying a pair of his son's training shoes in a line of more than 4,000 pairs of shoes symbolising the American children killed by firearms in the past year.

Mr Mauser has become a full-time lobbyist for the group Safe Colorado (Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic), and calls the cull of the nation's children the equivalent of "one Columbine every day".

His group's efforts to close the gunshow loophole, although supported by a large majority of Colorado voters, have been frustrated by the Republican-dominated state legislature, which rejected a package of five measures proposed by Governor Owens in February. The issue has found no more success nationally, with the US Congress ignoring President Clinton's plea to close the gunshow loophole before the anniversary of the Columbine shootings on 20 April.