Barack Obama has met police chiefs from communities hit by the worst shooting atrocities to have occurred during his presidency, and promised to take on board their views concerning gun violence.
Anticipating a “robust conversation” on Monday, Obama hosted officers from Oak Creek, Tucson, Aurora and Newtown. Also in attendance at the White House were police commissioners and superintendents from cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, where gun violence has become a serious problem.
In comments ahead of the closed-door meeting, Obama stressed that he intends to seek to prevent not only incidents of mass killing but also the “day-in, day-out” shootings that occur across the US. Welcoming the police chiefs, he said “no group is more important for us to listen to than our law-enforcement officers – they are where the rubber hits the road”.
Obama said he was keen to hear the officers’ views regarding what would make the biggest difference in preventing another Newtown – where 20 children and six adults were killed at an elementary school in December – or Oak Creek, where six people were shot dead at a Sikh temple in August.
But, Obama said, many police chiefs “also recognise that it is not only the high-profile mass shootings that are of concern here, it is also what happens on a day-in, day-out basis in places like Chicago and Philadelphia, where young people are victims of gun violence every single day.”
The president’s comments came after a typically bloody weekend in Chicago. On Saturday, at least seven people were shot dead and six wounded in numerous incidents. Among those killed was a 34-year-old man whose mother had already lost her three other children to shootings. Last year, there were more than 500 murders in Chicago; there were 331 in Philadelphia.
The White House meeting came two weeks after Obama put forward a broad package of measures aimed at curbing gun violence. It includes a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity clips, alongside improved background checks on would-be owners. However, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday, New York police commissioner Ray Kelly suggested that military style assault rifles were not the main problem.
“We don’t want them on the street, make no mistake about it. But the problem is the handgun. Sixty percent of the murders in New York City are caused by handguns, and we simply have too many of them.”
Kelly, alongside New York’s vehemently anti-gun mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has spearheaded the city’s drive against guns and violent crime. Last year, New York recorded record lows in both murders and shootings.
But there is no possibility of an outright ban on handguns, which have been ruled on more than one occasion by the Supreme Court to be legal under the Second Amendment.
Indeed, in an interview published on Sunday, Obama chastised some gun-control advocates for not listening to the concerns of rural Americans.
Speaking to the New Republic, the president said: “If you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were 10, and you went out and spent the day with him and uncles, and that became part of your family’s traditions, you can see why you’d be pretty protective of that.”
Those comments may reflect the sensitivity of the issue of gun control in the US. The White House proposals, although timid by the standards of other countries, are likely to come up against strong opposition from gun enthusiasts and powerful lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association.
In comments ahead of the meeting with police chiefs, Obama said that the issue of gun control gave rise to “a lot of passion across the country”. The Senate judiciary committee is due to take up the White House proposals on Wednesday, with testimony from the NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre.