Obama presses his gun proposals in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — With his gun proposals dividing Congress, President Barack Obama conceded Monday the challenges he faces in winning support for measures ranging from criminal checks on gun buyers to an assault weapons ban. But, he declared: “We don’t have to agree on everything to agree it’s time to do something.”

Obama argued that there’s bipartisan support for universal background checks and for gun trafficking laws. But, acknowledging the political challenges he faces, he would say only that the assault weapons ban deserves a vote in Congress.

“Changing the status quo is never easy,” Obama said. “This will be no exception. The only way we can reduce gun violence in this county is if the American people decide it’s important, if you decide it’s important — parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, hunters and sportsmen, Americans of every background stand up and say, `This time, it’s got to be different.”’

Before his remarks, Obama held a roundtable discussion at the Minneapolis Police Department Special Operations Center, speaking with law enforcement and community leaders.

Obama made his pitch in Minnesota, a Democratic-leaning state where officials have been studying ways to reduce gun-related attacks and accidents for several years. It was the first he has campaigned on his proposals outside of Washington.

Ahead of the trip, the White House released a photo of the president skeet shooting at Camp David, the presidential retreat. Obama cited skeet shooting when asked in a recent interview whether he had ever shot a gun.

The president unveiled his sweeping package of proposals for curbing gun violence last month after the mass shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. But many of the proposals face tough opposition from some in Congress and from the National Rifle Association.

Reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, is expected to be the steepest climb for Obama. Universal background checks for gun purchasers may have an easier time passing Congress, though the NRA also opposes that measure.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, said Obama remained committed to the assault weapons ban and it was too early to write off prospects for any part of the package.

“We all recognize that all the components of this are difficult and face challenges, some perhaps even more than others,” Carney said. “But the president’s support is firm and clear.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has said he hopes his panel can write gun legislation this month, though it’s unclear what it will contain.

The White House picked Minneapolis as the backdrop for Obama’s remarks in part because of recent steps the city has taken to tackle gun violence, including a push for stricter background checks.

After a spike in violent crimes, the city launched a program in 2008 aimed at providing more resources for at-risk youth and helping rehabilitate young people who have already perpetrated crimes. In January, Minneapolis also hosted a regional summit on gun violence for elected officials from around the Midwest.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau and Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek are also among the officials Obama has consulted as he pursues his anti-gun violence measures.

Stanek has also been leading a group of Minnesota sheriffs pushing for stronger background checks for people trying to buy guns.

The ban on 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’s Democratic 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.

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