President Barack Obama traveled to Minneapolis Monday to highlight the city's recent success in stemming youth gun violence and to push for more public support for his firearms initiatives, including a ban on assault-style weapons, high-capacity magazines and universal background checks.
Speaking from the city's police department, the president praised the officers' work on cutting gun-related injuries to youths by 40 percent.
"When it comes to protecting our children from gun violence, you've shown that progress is possible; that 40 percent means lives saved," he said.
Congress held its first hearing on gun violence last week, featuring testimony from former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat who was shot in the head during a constituent event, and National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre.
Obama took direct aim at LaPierre's testimony in opposition to what he calls "common sense" reforms such as universal background checks.
"The 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," Obama said. "We can't allow those filters to get in the way of common sense."
A political action committee funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a strong anti-gun advocate, also attempted to called out LaPierre and the NRA for flip-flopping on their support for such a reform. An advertisement aired in Washington, D.C., during the Superbowl featured LaPierre's 1999 congressional testimony stating his support for background checks at gun shows, something not currently required under the law. LaPierre said last week blanket background checks would be an "unworkable universal federal nightmare bureaucracy."
"I just don't think that law-abiding people want every gun sale in the country to be under the thumb of the federal government," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Congressional political will for gun reforms has been hard to peg, with many red state Senate Democrats, like Montana's Jon Tester or Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, resistant to support some of the White House's requests and a House controlled by Republicans. Recognizing this, Obama has sought to use his near all-time high approval rating of about 60 percent to press for what he feels are key initiatives.
"I need everybody who is listening to keep the pressure on your member of Congress to do the right thing, ask them if they support common sense reforms like requiring universal background checks or restoring the ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines," he said.
Obama also tried to counter some of the resistance to gun reforms, which is the fear many rural gun owners have that his administration is using the recent spate of mass killings to de-arm all Americans.
"Tell them there's no legislation to eliminate all guns, there's not legislation being proposed to subvert the Second Amendment; tell them specifically what we are talking about, things that the majority of Americans when they are asked support," Obama said, pleading with voters to press their congressional delegations. "And tell them now is the time for action. That we are not going to wait for the next Newtown or the next Aurora. We're not going to wait until after we lose more innocent Americans on street corners all across the country."
Obama also took the opportunity to publicly shame Congress for failing to approve a nominee to head the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—his nominee is U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Todd Jones. The position has been empty for six years, thanks to congressional gridlock and Senate opposition to both President George W. Bush's pick and Obama's.