WASHINGTON — Law enforcement leaders who met with President Barack Obama Monday urged him to focus on strengthening gun purchase background checks and mental health systems, but did not unify behind his more controversial gun control efforts.
The message from sheriffs and police chiefs gathered at the White House reflected the political reality in Congress that the assault weapons ban in particular is likely to have a hard time winning broad support. The president appeared to recognize the challenge of getting everything he wants from Congress as well, participants in the meeting said.
"We're very supportive of the assault weapons ban," as police chiefs, said Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief J. Thomas Manger in an interview with The Associated Press. "But I think everybody understands that may be a real tough battle to win. And one of the things that the president did say is that we can't look at it like we have to get all of these things or we haven't won."
Opinions over an assault weapons ban and limits on high capacity magazines — two measures the president supports — were divided in the room. While Manger said the police chiefs from the large cities support that kind of gun control, some of the elected sheriffs who were in the meeting may not.
"I think what was made clear was that gun control in itself is not the salvation to this issue," said Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of Story County, Iowa, one of 13 law enforcement leaders who met with the president, vice president and Cabinet members for more than an hour, seated around a conference table in the Roosevelt Room.
Among the participants included three chiefs that responded to the worst shootings of 2012, including Aurora, Colo., where 12 were killed in July; Oak Creek, Wis., where six died in an assault on a Sikh temple, and Newtown, Conn., scene of the most recent mass tragedy that left 20 first-graders dead.