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Obama praises Mpls. gun violence reduction efforts in Minn. visit

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President Obama
President Barack Obama discusses gun control and reducing gun violence following a visit with local leaders and law enforcement officials at the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations Center in Minneapolis, Minn. Monday, Feb. 4, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

President Barack  Obama used the first visit to Minnesota of his second term to push for a series of gun control measures he wants Congress to approve. 

With his stop in north Minneapolis, Obama urged Americans to tell Congress to support the call for new gun laws he made after the school shooting in Connecticut.

"We don't have to agree on everything to agree  it's time to do something. That's my main message here today," Obama said.

Obama said he choose Minneapolis because the city has taken successful steps to reduce gun violence.

"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," he said. "When it comes to protecting our children from gun violence, you have shown that progress is possible."

Obama has a long list of gun control proposals he wants Congress to pass, including:

• A ban on assault-style weapons and armor-piercing bullets

• A limit of 10 bullets per ammunition magazine  

• Background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers

 "Now these are common-sense measures supported by Democrats, Republicans and independents and many of them are responsible gun owners," Obama said.

MORE OBAMA COVERAGE 
• Live blog: Obama's visit, as it happened
• Photos: Obama's visit to Minneapolis
• Background: Minneapolis eyes police relationship with firearms makers

Obama spoke at the Minneapolis Police Department's Special Operations Center, a building that had been Hamilton Elementary School until 2005. The event was crafted to send the signal law enforcement stands behind the president's  gun control proposals, despite criticism from gun rights organizations such as the National Rifle Association.

More than 100 uniformed law enforcement officials served as Obama's backdrop. 

"All the folks standing here behind me today, they're the ones on the front line of this fight," Obama said. "They see the awful consequences, the lives lost, the families shattered. They know what works, they know what doesn't work and they know how to get things done without regard for politics."

Prior to his formal remarks, Obama met privately with 20 people at the police facility. In the group were politicians, community organizers, survivors of gun violence and law enforcement officials.

It was Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek's  third meeting with the president about gun violence.

"What we talked about with the president was that gun control is much more than just partisan rhetoric, that extreme gun violence effects our communities everyday, and that we have an access problem and those that are legally prohibited from owning or accessing fire arms should never have access to those firearms," Stanek said. 

Hamline University Law Professor Joseph Olson, who also sits on the board of the National Rifle Association, was not at the Obama event but said he doubts any of the president's  proposals would do anything to prevent mass shootings like the one in Connecticut.

"Let's face it, anyone who is in the slightest way connected to the drug trade and can get cocaine by the pound can get any firearm he wants delivered by the same seller," Olson said. "The same thing is true of people like Adam Lanza. If you're willing to shoot someone three times in the face in order to take their gun, then you're going to get their gun."

Olson, who has long opposed efforts to restrict 2nd Amendment rights, said the president didn't say that his proposal to expand criminal background checks would also create a permanent database of every gun owner in the country.  

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the stop in Minneapolis was the first of what will be a series of appeals the president will make around the country for his gun control agenda. In north Minneapolis, Obama appealed to Americans to help him enact the changes he's calling on Congress to make.

"Tell them there's no legislation to eliminate all guns. There's no legislation being proposed to subvert the Second Amendment," Obama said. "Tell them now is the time for action." 

The Republican Party of Minnesota issued a statement accusing the president of campaigning in Minnesota and suggesting Obama's time would be better spent addressing problems with the economy and deficit spending.

TOUGH ROAD IN CONGRESS

Obama's proposal for banning assault weapons faces more obstacles in Congress, where Republicans and some Democrats are aligned against it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that he's willing to take a look at legislation that would ban certain semi-automatic weapons, but he also noted that he voted against a ban on such weapons in 1994 because it "didn't make sense."

Among those participating in the round table discussion Monday with Obama was Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who said he supports Obama's proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine, as well as universal background checks.

Earlier in the day, Rybak criticized Reid for his stand. "He's dancing around this issue and people are dying in this country," Rybak said on MSNBC.

A community meeting on gun violence included among its attendees, community organizer V.J. Smith, who also serves as the national president of the anti-violence group MAD DADS. He said he asked the president not to overlook gun violence in urban areas.

"We can't lose suburban kids, 20 kids at a time," Smith said. "We also can't keep losing the hundreds and thousands of African American, Latino and other Native American kids that we're losing right now in the massacre on the streets."

Smith said most urban gun violence involves handguns and shotguns, so any ban on assault weapons would have little impact in those areas He said cities would benefit more from measures such as requiring  all gun buyers to undergo background checks.

Smith said he also told the president that *people living in inner cities need better education, job opportunities and counseling to cope with years of trauma from gun violence.