By Danielle Killey
President Barack Obama emphasized background checks and a ban on military assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in a speech to Minnesota law enforcement officials and local leaders Monday to promote his plan to curb gun violence.
“We don’t have to agree on everything to agree it’s time to do something,” Obama told more than 200 people who filled a gymnasium in the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations Center.
The president’s proposals include requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers that now are exempt. He said the “vast majority” of Americans, including gun owners, support background check proposals.
He also called for support to restore the ban on military style assault weapons and on magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.
“Weapons of war have no place on our streets or in our schools or threatening our law enforcement officers,” he said. “Our law enforcement officers should never be out-gunned on the streets.”
Obama said the fight against gun violence has to go further than controlling weapons.
During the roughly 15-minute speech, he pushed for a plan to provide funding for mental health programs and to train police officers, first responders and school officials for gun-related situations.
“If we’re going to solve the problem of gun violence we’ve got to look at root causes as well,” Obama said.
Other pieces of his plan include extended data gathering, more discussion among weapons-related agencies and studies about violence throughout the country.
Some of his suggested changes require Congress to take action, while others can be implemented by executive order.
“Changing the status quo is never easy and this will not be the exception,” he said, but if Americans push for a solution it can happen. Obama encouraged those listening to contact their legislators in Washington.
“Tell them now is the time for action,” he said. “We’re not going to wait until after we lose more innocent Americans on street corners all across the country.”
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels, who was in the audience, said he agreed with all the president had to say.
“I think it was a real honest discussion,” he said. He agreed with Obama that passing laws to offset gun violence might not be easy, but it is possible.
“I think it’s going to be a process,” he said. “We need to do our duties and have a voice in the discussion and be at the table.”
Recent shootings, such as one in December at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that killed 26 people, have amped up discussion about gun control legislation federally and locally.
The president announced his set of proposals on Jan. 16 aimed at reducing gun and weapon violence.
The Minnesota Legislature plans to discuss gun-related proposals this week, including those that fund mental illness programs, up penalties for certain criminals who possess firearms and require detailed background checks before weapon purchases.
The president’s speech Monday was not open to the public. Before his speech, he held a private discussion on gun violence with Gov. Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, U.S. senators and representatives from Minnesota and community leaders.
“Minneapolis is a city that has taken important steps to reduce gun violence and foster a conversation in the community about what further action is needed,” the president’s press office wrote in a statement before the trip.