WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe and other law enforcement officials Monday as part of the White House’s policy to reach out to the public in the hopes it pressures Congress to approve gun control measures.
“If law enforcement officials who are dealing with this stuff every single day can come to some basic consensus in terms of steps that we need to take, Congress is going to be paying attention to them, and we’ll be able to make progress, Obama said.
Last week Obama unveiled an ambitious package aimed at combating gun violence that included the reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons and high capacity gun magazines and the expansion of background checks on those who buy guns.
Those initiatives, however, require congressional approval, and that may be difficult.
“We recognize that this is an issue that elicits a lot of passion all across the country,” the president said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which counts Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., as a member, scheduled its first hearing Wednesday on gun control measures — including a proposed ban on assault weapons.
Also present at the meeting Monday were 12 other law enforcement officers, including Kehoe’s counterparts from Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed and 58 wounded in a shooting at a movie theater in July, and from Oak Creek, Wis., where six people were killed and four wounded at a Sikh temple in August.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also attended the meeting.
Newtown officials and the families of the 20 children and six educators slaughtered at the shootout at Sandy Hook Elementary School are expected to play an increasingly active role in the White House’s campaign against gun violence.
The families of Newtown victims were present — discretely in a crowd — when Obama rolled out his gun control plan, and Newtown Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson testified at a congressional hearing on gun control earlier this month in support of the president’s plan.
Family members of Newtown victims are also expected to be sitting with first lady Michele Obama during the president’s State of the Union address February 12.
Discussion at the Monday session in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of The White House focused on the president’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence, Chief Kehoe said Wednesday.
“We had a roundtable discussion on it,” he said.
“This is a time for action. This is a call for action,” he stressed.
Finding solutions will involve a multi-faceted approach which includes addressing gun violence issues and mental health issues, he said. “It’s a complex problem.”
If the horrific December 14 shooting incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School is not the stimulus for positive change, then what would be the stimulus, he asked. “If we don’t do something, this will occur over and over and over again in greater numbers.”
If members of the public want to stop such shooting incidents from occurring, they should contact their state legislators and their federal legislators and urge them to take appropriate legislative action, the police chief said, adding that when it becomes clear to the legislators that people are fed up with such shooting incidents occurring again and again, those legislators would act for positive change, the police chief said.
Chief Kehoe termed the session with President Obama a “productive” one, with those in attendance raising good, valid points on the issues at hand.
“Our aim was to try to come to…solutions to a complex problem,” the police chief said. “I was very honored and privileged to be invited.”
(Parts of this story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, nonprofit news organization covering government, politics, and public policy in the state.)