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Obama visit highlights ‘common sense’ steps to reduce gun violence

“Changing the status quo is never easy,” the president said, urging the public to keep the political heat on Congress to act.

“Changing the status quo is never easy,” President Obama told a small crowd of mostly DFL pols and law enforcement officials.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen

During his quick Minneapolis stop Monday, President Obama singled out city efforts in working to reduce gun violence

The president met with a group of politicians, police officers and mental health and community activists at what was billed as “a roundtable discussion.” Given the short roundtable portion of his trip, it’s not likely that any great policy ideas emerged.

Yet, given the huge caravan of national media that followed the president to Minneapolis, it’s clear why such trips are scheduled. The Obama visit will be a part of nightly news shows and get substantial play across the country.

Interestingly, the president — and the big national media pool — arrived at the North Minneapolis site on streets that snowplows had cleared curb to curb. Laughing, people in the neighborhood said they’d never seen such a thorough job.

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The president, who was accompanied by Attorney General Eric Holder, had nothing new to say on policy grounds when he spoke at a former elementary school that now serves as a police department special operations center.

Familiar message

But his familiar message — a call for complete background checks on all who would purchase guns, a ban on military assault weapons, and a limit on the size of ammunition magazines — is one he hopes will resonate as “common sense” steps to reduce gun violence.

Only continued public pressure, he said, will force the Congress to act.

“Changing the status quo is never easy,” Obama told a small crowd of mostly DFL pols and law enforcement officials in remarks that lasted less than 15 minutes. “The only way to get something accomplished is if you decide it’s important.’’

The public has to say, “This time it will be different,” the president said. Again, that’s a message that he will be carrying across the country.

The roundtable discussion that Obama and Holder attended was an interesting combination of those with political clout and lesser-knowns.

 Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar were there, as was Mayor R.T. Rybak and several law-enforcement officials.

But also on hand were such people as Samuel Rahamin, son of the owner of Accent Signage, the business where six were killed last summer by a former employee.

V.J. Smith, executive director of Mad Dads, a Minneapolis organization that for years has been trying to combat street violence, was at the table, as was Sue Abderholden of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota and Oran Beaulieu, a health official with the Red Lake Ojibwe.

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The site of the meeting was just a few blocks from the spot where 5-year-old Nizzel George was shot and killed last year while sleeping on his grandmother’s porch.

Frequent killings of young cited

Though it’s clear the president was motivated to take on the gun issue by the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he constantly made reference to the killings of young people in our cities for years.

Those references to the daily shootings in American cities received some positive head nods from the Rev. Jerry McAfee, pastor at New Salem Baptist Church in north Minneapolis.

McAfee arrived at Monday’s event upset by the fact that it took Newtown to inspire the latest effort at gun control. McAfee sees issues of race in both the past refusals of the Congress to act and in the current fierce resistance of the National Rifle Association to Obama’s efforts.

The country, McAfee, didn’t blink over the “the killings of 1,700 people in Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles in the last year. … Most of those were young people.’’

And most of those, he added, were black.

He scornfully said the best way to get the NRA to accept gun control would be “to arm black people.”  He also said that the NRA is reacting as it is because of Obama’s race.

“This black man is scaring the hell out of them,” McAfee said.

Obama is clearly trying as best he can to reach out to those who oppose his efforts.

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“Engage with folks who don’t agree with you,” he urged the friendly crowd. By engaging, some “common ground’’ can be found.

Obama acknowledged there is a great cultural divide in the country over guns. People in metro areas have hugely different views than those in rural areas.

That difference is obvious at the Minnesota Legislature, where many rural DFLers are very wary of any talk of gun control. Beginning Tuesday, state lawmakers will hear the first of several gun control proposals.

Before the president’s appearance, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak addressed how difficult it will be for the state Legislature to act. That means, the mayor said, the cities will have to push hard for the sorts of resources that can help curb gun violence.

Those efforts — youth outreach, work with various foundations, police aggressively confiscating illegal guns — all have helped dramatically reduce gun violence in Minneapolis, Rybak said.

“People here are standing up,” Rybak said, adding that’s why Obama chose Minneapolis as a place to bring his gun-curb campaign. “I’m incredibly proud of what people here have done.”

Will help come from the Congress?

“If those people get a spine,” Rybak respondedly bluntly.