MINNEAPOLIS — President Barack Obama told a crowd of community leaders and law enforcement officers in Minneapolis that the country can’t wait for another mass shooting to make “common-sense” changes to its gun laws.
The president took his gun control pitch on the road Monday, Feb. 4, calling for bans on military-style assault weapons and expansion of background checks for gun owners.
Obama’s plan includes four major legislative proposals and 23 executive actions to bolster enforcement of existing laws and make it harder for criminals and people with mental illness to get guns.
His push comes weeks after a mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., left 20 children and six adults dead. His task will be far from easy; gun rights advocates vow to fight any moves that they say could infringe on their Second Amendment rights.
“We might not be able to prevent every massacre or random killing,” Obama said Monday, surrounded by law enforcement officers at the Minneapolis Police Special Operations Center. “If there is just one thing we can do, one life we can save, then we have an obligation to try.”
The president spoke just four blocks from where Nizzel George, 5, was fatally shot in a gang dispute while he slept on a couch in his grandmother’s home last summer. Those in attendance included the mother of 3-year-old Terrell Lamont Mays Jr., who was killed in a north Minneapolis home by a stray bullet more than a year ago, and family members of some of the six people killed at Accent Signage Systems less than five months ago by an employee who had just been fired.
Obama wants Congress to reinstate and strengthen a ban on the sale and production of assault weapons that expired in 2004. He also called for a ban on the sale and production of magazines with more than 10 rounds, like those used in Newtown and other mass shootings. The president’s plan also calls for criminal background checks on all gun sales and for closing the loophole that allows buyers to avoid such checks by purchasing weapons from unlicensed sellers at gun shows.
The president also lauded Minneapolis for its youth violence prevention initiative. Since 2006, the number of youth arrested or suspected in violent crimes has dropped 56 percent; firearm-related injuries of youth dropped by almost 40 percent. Minneapolis is using a variety of strategies to connect every youth with a trusted adult, intervene at the first sign a child is at risk of violence and try to reverse the culture of violence in some neighborhoods.
“When it comes to protecting our children from gun violence, you have shown that progress is possible,” Obama said. “That 40 percent means lives saved.”
The president told the public to keep putting pressure on their members of Congress to do the right thing and support the legislation.
“Changing the status quo is never easy,” Obama said. “This will be no exception. The only way we can reduce gun violence in this county is if the American people decide it’s important, if you decide it’s important — parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, hunters and sportsmen, Americans of every background stand up and say, ‘This time, it’s got to be different.’”
Afterward, Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann issued a statement saying that her constituents in the 6th Congressional District are worried their right to bear arms will be limited.
“How to make our society safer and stronger is an important discussion. To prevent future tragedies we must address the underlying causes of violence and understand why perpetrators do these unthinkably evil acts,” Bachmann said. “The focus needs to be on making our homes, schools, and streets safer — not advancing a political gun control agenda.”
Obama met privately with elected officials, police officers and those affected by gun violence before his 15-minute speech. They included Rybak; Gov. Mark Dayton; Minnesota’s U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken; and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. Also attending was Sami Rahamim, who lost his father, Reuven Rahamim, owner of Accent Signage, in the September shooting at the Minneapolis business he founded.
Now, the 17-year-old has taken it upon himself to lobby state lawmakers for legislation that would enhance background checks and tighten gun regulations. Sami also got a chance to talk to the president and thank him for his work on gun control.
Rahamim said he is quickly turning his focus to a set of legislative hearings that begin at the Minnesota Capitol on Tuesday. Lawmakers will hear testimony for three days on nearly a dozen gun proposals, including banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and tightening background checks for gun buyers.
Gun-rights advocates plan to pack the hearings, saying as many as 400 could show up to voice their opposition. But gun-control supporters also are trying to rally supporters to match that crowd.
Rahamim also will be Ellison’s guest for the president’s State of the Union address next week.
“Sami suffered a tragic lost. Yet he has stepped forward to make a difference in our community and our nation,” Ellison said. “I hope his voice and activism will prevent another child from losing a family member to gun violence.”