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Tucson police chief at White House to talk about gun-violence prevention

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WASHINGTON – Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said President Barack Obama was receptive Monday to suggestions from a group of law enforcement officials called to the White House to discuss efforts to reduce gun violence.

Villasenor was one of 13 police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country who met with the president, vice president and several Cabinet officials on the administration’s multi-prong plan that was released in response to a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.

The meeting included police from Newtown as well as other towns that have been the scenes of high-profile shootings in recent years, like Aurora, Colo., and Tucson.

Villasenor was chief in Tucson during the 2011 shooting that killed six people and wounded 13, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson. While his department did not handle the shooting itself, Villasenor said Monday there was not a single person in his community who was not affected by the attack.

He said all of those at the meeting – which included chiefs from Chicago and Philadelphia, which constantly battle gun violence – supported the administration proposals outlined earlier this month.

That plan included a series of sweeping executive actions that Obama can order without congressional action, including stronger background checks, incentives for schools to hire police officers and training for first-responders and school officials to handle active-shooter situations.

The administration has also called on Congress to pass a ban on assault-style weapons and a limit on ammunition clips, among other legislative changes.

Villasenor urged the president to continue his push for universal background checks on gun buyers that would eliminate the gun-show loophole, which lets people purchase guns from private sellers without a background check. He said he also advocated for a system to track when guns are sold, lost or stolen, similar to the licensing system that exists for cars, which would help solve crimes.

“I believe he was receptive,” Villasenor said of Obama.

Villasenor, who calls himself an avid supporter of the Second Amendment, said it is time for a calm discussion about steps to reduce gun violence. Those include what he calls commonsense steps like banning high-capacity clips and assault rifles that are not used for leisure activities like target practice or hunting, he said.

“People are so emotional about this issue, that it’s been one of the major obstructions to meaningful discussion,” Villasenor said.

Obama called those at Monday’s meeting the most important group to listen to in the gun-violence prevention debate because they are “where the rubber meets the road.”

The president said he also wanted “to hear their views in terms of what will make the biggest difference to prevent something like Newtown or Oak Creek from happening again,” according to a transcript released by the White House.

In addition to stronger gun laws, Obama on Monday discussed law-enforcement training and hiring, and equal access to resources in rural and urban areas.

In an afternoon press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney called the late-morning meeting with the police officials “productive.” He also said the president plans to press Congress to take action on gun-violence prevention, according to a White House transcript of the briefing.