NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Monday turned to law enforcement leaders in three communities with mass shootings for help in getting Congress to pass tough new gun legislation.
At a White House meeting, Obama said that no group is more important in the gun debate and he said he recognizes the issue "elicits a lot of passion all across the country." But Obama also said he believes Congress will respond to appeals from police.
"Hopefully if law enforcement officials who are dealing with this stuff every single day can come to some basic consensus in terms of steps that we need to take," he said, "Congress is going to be paying attention to them, and we'll be able to make progress."
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau and Hennepin County Minnesota Sheriff Richard W. Stanek joined Obama for the meeting.
"Gun control alone will not solve the complex problem of guns and extreme violence," said Stanek. "We have an access problem. Individuals with severe mental illness should never have access to guns."
The president's meeting comes as he tries to build support for gun control legislation that will be difficult to get through Congress. He urged Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, limit high capacity magazines and require universal background checks.
Obama met in the Roosevelt Room with the heads of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Major County Sheriffs Association, members of his Cabinet and chiefs that responded to the worst shootings of 2012. That includes Aurora, Colo., where 12 were killed in July; Oak Creek, Wis., where six died in a Sikh temple assault: and Newtown, Conn., scene of the most recent mass tragedy that left 20 first-graders dead.
Obama also said that Washington needs to take mental health issues and school safety more seriously and should help law enforcement agencies hire more police, make sure they get the training they need and give rural forces the resources they need to deal with emergencies.
"Many of them also recognize that it's not only the high profile mass shootings that are of concern here," the president said. "It's also what happens on a day in day out basis in places like Chicago or Philadelphia where young people are victims of gun violence every single day."