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In Minn., Obama Appeals For Movement On Gun Background Checks

Feb 5, 2013
Originally published on February 5, 2013 1:47 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, on the same as that funeral, President Obama continued his push for tougher gun laws. He was talking yesterday in Minneapolis on a subject he is expected to address in next week's State of the Union speech.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Winter can be brutal in Minneapolis, a city of frozen lakes and jumper cables. The outside temperature was nine degrees when Air Force One delivered the president here yesterday. He proceeded to a police special operations center on the city's often rough north side, a part of town where gunfire was reported on 20 occasions the last week of January.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is good to be back in Minnesota.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yeah.

OBAMA: It is good to be back, although I was commenting that they don't really have winter in Washington, D.C.

WELNA: Clearly, the president did not come for the weather. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says this trip was instead all about Obama making good on a promise to use his bully pulpit to take his message on guns to the country.

DON PFEIFFER: The politics on dealing with gun violence has been very difficult, and we've basically been in gridlock for 10 years. So we're going to take the opportunity to talk to members on the Hill. He'll be on the phone. He'll have members down to the White House, and we're also going to go to the country and talk to the American people, why this is important.

WELNA: After a closed meeting with the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as those cities' police chiefs and local victims of gun violence, Obama made a public appeal here for Congress to move quickly to require background checks for all gun sales.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: The majority of gun owners - overwhelming majority of gun owners - think that's a good idea. So if we've got lobbyists in Washington claiming to speak for gun owners saying something different, we need to go to the source and reach out to people directly. We can't allow those filters to get in the way of common sense.

WELNA: Obama told the small audience that it's their job now to make sure that common sense prevails, and that starts, he said, with putting the heat on lawmakers in Washington and not leaving them any outs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: Tell them there's no legislation to eliminate all guns. There's no legislation being proposed to subvert the Second Amendment. Tell them specifically what we're talking about, things that the majority of Americans, when they're asked, support. And tell them now is the time for action.

WELNA: The president reminded the crowd of the massacres last year in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado, and a Minnesota sign company where five workers were murdered last fall. He was encouraged that the Senate last week held hearings on what can be done to prevent such spasms of gun violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: But if there's one thing I've learned over the last four years, it's that you can't count on anything in Washington until it's done. And nothing's done yet. There's been a lot of talk, a lot of conversation, a lot of publicity, but we've haven't actually taken concrete steps yet.

WELNA: The concern among those pushing for tighter restrictions on guns is that the galvanizing effect of the Newtown massacre may already be fading. Still, when asked by reporters yesterday about the political viability of more gun safety measures, Amy Klobuchar, who's one of Minnesota's two Democratic senators, replied that the issue had to be given more time for the public to think about it. That kind of caution frustrates the mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak.

MAYOR R.T. RYBAK: Do people in Washington have any idea what it's like to be a mayor or a mom and stand on a corner and see somebody dead on the street and have those people say, do anything you can to prevent violence? And then to hear these people in Congress stand up and say, well, it's tough politics. Tough luck. It's tough to lose a kid. It's tough to be a mayor who's seen violence. And it is really tough, I think, to be a politician, put your head on your pillow, and not have done anything in a crisis.

WELNA: The city Rybak presides over was known as Murderapolis in the mid-1990s, when gang-related violence pushed murder rates well above those of New York City. A program he's headed is credited with reducing the number of young people injured by gun fire by 40 percent. President Obama said he came to Minneapolis to recognize that program and to show things can be done, if there's the will to do them. David Welna, NPR News, Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: We're glad you're with us on this Tuesday morning, thanks to your public radio station. You can continue following MORNING EDITION throughout the day on social media. We're on Facebook. You can also find us on Twitter. Among other handles, we are @MorningEdition and @NPRInskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.