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Washington • Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank on Monday offered President Barack Obama his support for the White House's new push for measured gun control, noting that while the issue is polarizing, it's one that needs to be tackled.
Burbank joined a dozen law enforcement officials at the White House on Monday to discuss ways to curb gun violence in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were killed.
"I don't think of any of us, as far as the chiefs [of police] would say, that it's always a gun's fault," Burbank said Monday. "But certainly the access to firearms is a contributing factor to this kind of thing, and that needs to be addressed and needs to be looked at."
Salt Lake City's top cop who is also vice chairman of the Major Cities Chiefs Association sat across from Obama for the meeting in the Roosevelt Room, and noted the group's members all tried to push for finding middle ground in the dicey debate over guns. Nearly six years ago, Burbank's department responded to a shooting at Trolley Square near downtown Salt Lake City where a gunman killed five shoppers and wounded four others.
"It's the responsibility of every police chief and every politician to say, 'How can we stop this violence,'" Burbank said Monday.
Weeks after unveiling a plan to expand background checks and ban assault-type rifles and high-capacity magazines, Obama pressed the chiefs of police and sheriffs from across the country to do what they could to urge Congress into action.
"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.
Police chiefs from Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., the sites of two gun massacres in the last year, also participated in Monday's discussion where Obama said he knows that gun issues generate a lot of passion and his administration is trying to listen to various groups to figure out solutions.
"No group is more important for us to listen to than our law enforcement officials," Obama said. "They are where the rubber hits the road."
The president asked the group for ways to make the biggest difference in preventing shootings like the one at Newtown but also noted the problem is not just the high-profile incidents but also the day-in-day-out gun deaths in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Burbank agrees, noting that he's not against conceal-and-carry laws for responsible gun owners, but that something must be done to keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill or have criminal intentions.
And the chief also strongly disagreed with a letter from the Utah Sheriffs' Association to the president arguing that its members would thwart any effort by federal officials to take guns away from Americans.
"I don't think it's a realistic letter," Burbank said, noting that it didn't specifically come up during discussions at the White House on Monday. "I've never seen any legislation that has advocated that federal agents come and take firearms away from any people."
Still, he added, it's naïve to think that access to guns isn't an issue. Burbank urged people to stop polarizing the issue and try to find reasonable ways to discuss it.
While Obama issued several executive orders to do what he could to prosecute people who lie on background-check applications and to help ensure better access to mental health services, he needs Congress to pass the more restrictive ideas he's floated.
And despite Burbank's participation, the president isn't likely to gain much traction with any of the six Utahns in Congress, who have already signaled concern for the more sweeping proposals, including the assault-rifle ban.