by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
Eliminating gun violence is a responsibility that Americans have and one that President Obama says he will take every single day “as long as I am your president.”
President Obama was in Minnesota Monday (Feb. 4) to address men and women who are on the front line of preventing gun violence. He was speaking to about 100 uniformed law enforcement officers lined up on a stage alongside and behind him.
Minnesota became the first state where Obama championed his plans to protect our children and communities by reducing gun violence. He was also speaking to Minnesota legislators and members of Congress about the urgency to support common sense reforms, including universal background checks and restoring the ban on military assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Hearings on proposed state legislation were to begin Tuesday before the Minnesota Legislature.
Obama also talked about making schools safer and increasing access to mental health services.
Prior to his remarks to law enforcement officers, legislators and about 75 members of the media at the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations Center, Obama met with a panel at the center in roundtable discussion, speaking with law enforcement and community leaders. The Operations Center is a converted elementary school, formerly the Hamilton Elementary School located in north Minneapolis.
This is the list of participants at President Obama’s gun violence roundtable:
• Janee Harteau, Minneapolis Police Chief
• Attorney General Eric Holder
• Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton
• Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak
• U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar
• U.S. Sen. Al Franken
• Congressman Keith Ellison
• B. Todd Jones, U.S. attorney for Minnesota and acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
• Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Sheriff
• Greg Hestness, chief of police, University of Minnesota
• Gary Cunningham, vice president of the Northwest Area Foundation and former co-chair of Minneapolis’ Youth Violence Prevention Initiative
• Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota
• V.J. Smith, president and executive director of MADDADS
• Sue Abderholden, executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness-Minnesota
• John Souter, employee of Accent Signage and lone survivor of September 27, 2012 mass shooting at that company
• Ellen Luger, vice president, General Mills Foundation
• Mike Kirchen, Minneapolis Public Schools School resource officer
• Mary Johnson, founder of Two Mothers
• Samuel Rahamin, son of Minneapolis business owner who was killed by a disgruntled employee at Accent Signage last fall
• Oran Beaulieu, Tribal Health director of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in Northern Minnesota
Obama explained in prepared remarks to the gathered group that it is important to hear ideas from local community leaders and from victims and their families “about how we can protect our kids and address the broader epidemic of gun violence.”
Many times during his speech, Obama referred to the law enforcement people on stage with him. “The folks standing behind me today are on the front lines of this crisis,” Obama said. “They see the awful consequences of lives lost and families shattered. They know what works, what doesn’t work and they know how to get things done.”
Obama said it is time to take some basic, common sense steps to reduce gun violence. “We may not be able to prevent every massacre or random shooting. No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe, but it there’s even one thing we can do, if there’s just one life we can save, we’ve got an obligation to try. That’s been the philosophy here in Minneapolis.”
Obama continued to praise law enforcement and communities: “A few years back, you suffered a spike in violent crime involving young people. So this city came together. You launched a series of youth initiatives that have reduced the number of young people injured by guns by 40 percent — 40 percent. So when it comes to protecting our children from gun violence, you’ve shown that progress is possible. We’ve still got to deal with the 60 percent that remains, but that 40 percent means lives saved — parents whose hearts aren’t broken, communities that aren’t terrorized and afraid.”
Several times during his speech, Obama was interrupted by applause, for example, when he said, “We don’t have to agree on everything to agree it’s time to do something.”
Obama said “each of us has a role to play” and he pointed out that he took action on his own administratively to strengthen background checks and to help schools get more resources and officers if they want them. He also directed the Center for Disease Control to study the causes of violence.
Obama said a consensus is beginning to emerge for action to be taken in reducing gun violence. “A vast majority of Americans including many of our gun owners support criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun,” Obama said. He also said Democrats and Republicans are working on a bill prohibiting anyone from owning a gun who is legally prohibited from owning a gun.
“We want to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them,” Obama said. “In addition to reducing violence on the street, it would also make life a lot easier and a lot safer for the people standing behind me.” the president said.
Obama pointed to the Congress as being key in getting gun legislation passed. He said he learned over the past four years “that you can’t count on anything in Washington until it is done.” He said it is a time for action. Obama said there is no legislation being proposed to eliminate all guns and there is no legislation being proposed to subvert the Second Amendment.
In his closing remarks, Obama said the only way gun violance can be reduced is “if the American people decide it is important. It’s parents, teachers, police officers, pastors, hunters and sportsmen, Americans of every background, who must stand up and say this time it has to be different — we’ve suffered to much pain to do nothing.”
President Obama was introduced by Janee Harteau, Minneapolis chief of police. She praised Obama for being a supporter of law enforcement and for understanding the complexity of gun violence. She said he has the courage to seek out and implement solutions.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]