Minneapolis' gun control efforts at center of Obama visit

Barack Obama, Janee Harteau
President Barack Obama is introduced by Minneapolis Police Chief, Janee Harteau before speaking on ideas to reduce gun violence, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, at the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations in Minneapolis, Minn.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama made Minneapolis his first stop on a tour to promote what he calls "common sense" gun control measures, which include renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban, limiting ammunition magazines to ten rounds and passing universal background checks.

Obama added that no one law or set of laws will keep children completely safe. Obama spoke from a police facility housed in a former school in north Minneapolis — a section of the city that contains several gun-crime hot spots. However, Obama held Minneapolis up as an example of what cities can do to reduce youth violence without passing new gun laws.

"A few years back, you suffered a spike in violent crime involving young people. So this city came together," Obama said. "You launched a series of youth initiatives that have reduced the number of young people injured by guns by 40 percent."

Obama was referring to the city's Blueprint for Action which was launched a little more than five years ago. The initiative stresses mentoring for at-risk youth, early intervention at the first signs of trouble, helping youth offenders get back on track and getting young people to reject a culture of violence.

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Minneapolis police also re-staffed its juvenile unit which focuses on enforcing curfew and truancy laws. The department also has 16 police officers working as liaison officers in more than 70 city schools.

Too many young people are still being lost to gun violence, Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau said. She mentioned the recent deaths of Nizzel George, 5, and Terrell Mayes Jr., 3. Both boys were killed by stray bullets, not far from where the president spoke Monday. George's killer, a teenager, recently pleaded guilty to murder. Mayes' killer has not been found.

Harteau said she believes the laws the president is proposing can help save young lives.

"Access issues are critically important. If people don't have access to guns; if we can have the ability to keep them out of the hands of people who shouldn't get them — convicted felons, and others — that's helpful to the efforts," Harteau said. "There is no one solution, but all of these things collectively will help us have an impact."

Harteau was one of 20 people — including law enforcement, elected officials, activists and gun crime victims — who met privately with the president during his visit. She said the president listened to people talk about how gun violence has impacted them and their families and communities.

"There is no one solution, but all of these things collectively will help us have an impact."

V.J. Smith, national president of MAD DADS, an activist group that seeks to reduce urban violence, said the president told him and others to keep up the good work.

"The next step he said for us is to not only continue doing what we're doing, because we are a model around the country, but continue to share those ideas and continue support him and his efforts," Smith said. "He's just the president, but it's about what we do locally."

But some people are skeptical that banning certain types of weapons and mandating background checks for all weapons sales will stop the violence in north Minneapolis or in other crime-challenged cities across the country.

The Rev. Jerry McAfee, the pastor of a north side church, calls himself a 'country boy' who grew up around guns. McAfee said criminals are not going to submit to a background check. Instead, he would like law enforcement to do more to find out where the gun used in a crime came from and punish the supplier.

"It needs to be traced all the way back to who got it and who had it. And if somebody legally, who passed a background check, went and got them guns from a gun show but then came and sold them illegally — we need that sucker prosecuted just as much as they prosecute that young boy on the block," McAfee said. "But they're not talking like that."

Minneapolis police officers request trace information from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for every crime gun they recover. However, not every law enforcement agency does. Obama recently issued a Presidential Memorandum that requires federal law enforcement to trace all guns recovered from crime scenes.

The president issued another order calling for stronger efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime. The order does not directly address the kind of penalties that Rev. McAfee is calling for.

In his Minneapolis remarks, Obama said the U.S. Senate is working on a proposal to address the "straw buyer" issue.

"Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working on a bill that would ban anyone from selling a gun to somebody legally prohibited from owning one. That's common sense," Obama said. "Senators from both parties have also come together and proposed a bill that would crack down on people who buy guns only to turn them around and sell them to criminals."

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