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Colorado sheriff says lawmakers holding up pay raises over gun stance

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El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa says lawmakers are punishing him and his colleagues over their stance on new gun laws. (El Paso County Sheriff's Office)

One of dozens of Colorado sheriffs who oppose several gun control bills working their way through the state legislature claims lawmakers are threatening the salaries of sheriffs to punish them for their position.

The clash comes as pro-gun control elected leaders seek tighter restrictions on firearms in the wake of the Aurora movie massacre last summer and the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn. El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, while saying he would be obliged to enforce new law, publicly said he would willfully ignore a ban on high-capacity magazines and may even sue to overturn new laws he deems unconstitutional. Now, he says a bill that would raise sheriffs' salaries is being held up at the Capitol and he knows why.

“The first word that comes to my mind is extortion.”

- El Paso County (Colo.) Sheriff Terry Maketa

“Senate Dems have made it known, ‘Sheriffs, obey or no pay for you,’” said Maketa, one of some 30 state sheriffs who attended public hearings on the gun bills to voice opposition. “The first word that comes to my mind is extortion.”

He cited an email he received from another sheriff that read, “…I have been advised by a reliable source at the Capitol that the Dems are seriously not pleased with the [sheriffs’] positions on the gun bills… support of SB197 [one of the gun bills] would put us in a more favorable light for salary bill support from the Dems…”

Democrats hold majorities in both legislative houses. Republican Rep. Lori Saine told FoxNews.com that Maketa's charge must be taken seriously.

“Any implication that this salary bill is being stymied needs to be seriously investigated,” she said.

But Senate Democrats deny that gun politics has anything to do with holding up sheriffs' pay increases,which are set by state law and have been unchanged since 2006.

"The position on pay raises has nothing to do with the sheriff's stance on gun safety legislation, and everything to do with the economy," Doug Schepman, spokesman for the Senate Democrats, told FoxNews.com.

Maketa says he would have to enforce bills signed into law. However, he said he would willfully ignore the ban on high-capacity magazines. Maketa says he's looking into the possibility of suing to overturn the bills if they become law.

Delta County Sheriff , who is president of County Sheriffs of Colorado, which opposes the gun bills, said he had no knowledge of any Democratic lawmakers making any sort of threats in regard to pay raises.

“I haven’t heard anything like this,” McKee told the Denver Post.

Democrats say that they will allow a salary bill to raise sheriff pay to go to the floor, but only if seven Republicans, many of whom oppose the pay bill on fiscal grounds, sign on as co-sponsors. So far, that has not happened. Maketa said that is a hurdle that the gun bills did not face.

"None of these gun control bills they passed required any Republican co-sponsors -- but for the sheriff pay bill, [the speaker] required seven Republican co-sponsors to put it up for a vote," Maketa said. "I'm sorry, but that tells the truth right there."

Maketa said some of the gun control bills that have passed the legislature as unenforceable -- that he would simply assume that people’s guns had been purchased before the law and that they therefore would be grandfathered in.

"I can’t tell you when those [guns] were sold, bought and purchased. As far as I’m concerned, they were all pre-July 1 if the governor does sign this bill," he told a crowd last week.

Schepman said Maketa and other sheriffs who have indicated they may not enforce the laws are out of line.

"It's irresponsible for... sheriffs, including Maketa, to publicly state they will refuse to enforce certain gun safety laws," Schepman said. 

However, Maketa clarified to FoxNews.com on the phone that he would enforce laws when it was possible.

"I will enforce the new gun laws. I have to," he said.

But other sheriffs have said they won't, including Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, who told GreeleyTribune.com that he "won’t bother enforcing" certain new gun laws.

Despite Democrats' outrage at statements like that, they maintain that it has not had an impact on sheriff salaries.

“In no way did I, nor my office, threaten the sheriffs that if they did not support these bills, they would not get a pay increase,” Senate President John Morse wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday.

The writer of this piece can be reached at maxim.lott@foxnews.com.