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President Obama: It's time do something on gun control

2:20 PM, Feb 4, 2013   |    comments
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Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY

MINNEAPOLIS-President Obama traveled on Monday to a corner of this city that has been ravaged by gun violence and called on Americans to press lawmakers to back his gun control agenda.

The trip to the north side of Minneapolis marked Obama's first trip outside the Beltway to tout his plan for tighter gun control and put pressure on Congress to act.

"We don't have to agree on everything to agree that it's time to do something," Obama said with dozens of Minneapolis police officers and Hennepin County sheriff deputies behind him.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and the city's police chief, Janee Harteau, have been vocal supporters of the president's agenda, since he unveiled his plan that includes calls for background checks for all gun sales, banning assault weapons, and limiting ammunition clips to 10 rounds.

"We just have tremendous admiration for you carrying a tough political load," Rybak told the president at the start of a roundtable meeting at the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations Center, where he will hold a roundtable discussion with law enforcement and other community leaders. Rybak added, "We still need common sense law changes in Washington."

The White House chose Minneapolis, in part, for the big policy speech because the city has made progress in reducing gun violence.

After a spike in violent crime involving youth in the mid-2000s, Minneapolis launched a youth violence initiative that is credited with a 66% decrease in the number of youths involved in gun-related incidents and a 41% drop in youth injured by gun violence over the past five years.

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

A bipartisan push by sheriffs in Minnesota to improve the state's background check system for gun buyers - including speeding up the input of felony and drug convictions, along with mental-health court orders - has also piqued administration interest.

But even as Minnesota's largest city has made progress, gun violence remains a vexing issue for law enforcement officials here.

The Minneapolis Police Department saw a 27.5% increase in the number of guns found at crime scenes in 2012.

Perhaps most confounding, said Harteau, the police chief, is pinpointing the chain of ownership of many of the weapons her police officers are recovering at crime scenes.

Harteau said that instituting universal background checks, part of the president's agenda, and mandating that gun owners immediately report when a weapon is stolen could be among the most effective moves that Congress can make in aiding law enforcement officials.

To that end, every time there's a crime where a gun is recovered in Minneapolis, police here now are launching a parallel investigation into the weapon, an effort to trace back the chain of custody to the original legal owner and better understand how weapons on circulating.

"With some of the guns we've recovered, we've gone back to find the original owners who say they haven't seen the guns in years or they say they've given the gun to so-and-so and the weapon has changed hands 15 times," Harteau said. "We don't know what's out there."

USA TODAY

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