MINNEAPOLIS -- With the gun control debate heating up nationally, several mayors, police chiefs and prosecutors from around the Upper Midwest gathered Thursday and said strong community partnerships, interagency collaboration and greater access to data on firearms are keys to preventing the violence they see every day.
The officials met in Minneapolis for a daylong regional summit on gun violence and policies, hosted by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. It was planned a year ago, months before 26 people were killed in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and before the recent mass slayings in Minneapolis and the Milwaukee area.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said that while those mass shootings require federal action, there is also a "slow-motion mass murder" happening in cities across America, and that daily violence can't be ignored.
The summit occurred on the same day Vice President Joe Biden announced he reached a consensus on some gun policy proposals, including banning assault weapons. Biden plans to present those proposals -- which are opposed by the National Rifle Association -- to President Barack Obama next week.
Rybak, who is among a group of mayors headed to Washington next week to lobby for federal gun-law reform, said key issues emerged as the group held candid discussions throughout the day.
"We can see where the momentum is moving in Washington and that will be more helpful to focus our work, it won't however limit, where we go," he said.
Among the issues discussed was changing federal laws that prevent authorities from sharing information on firearms, Rybak said. He said he has been outraged to show up at a crime scene to find that the agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is legally barred from giving a local police officer everything he knows about the firearm or suspect involved.
"When a gun is illegal, when it's in the hands of a criminal, we should have all arms of government doing everything humanly possible to prevent that from killing someone," he said.
Summit participants also talked about the need for information about the mental health of someone seeking a gun license.
And, Rybak said, the federal government needs to stop tying the hands of the ATF, which hasn't had a confirmed director in six years and is underfunded.
Summit participants included officials from several cities and suburbs in Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as authorities from Kansas City, Mo.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Chicago. The mayors acknowledged they are under fire by those who don't support changes to gun laws.
"We are fighting for the freedom for the people of this country to be safe," Barrett said.
Sami Rahamim, the son of a Minneapolis business owner who was gunned down in September, said the summit was powerful because it showed him that officials care about those whose lives have been destroyed by gun violence.
"They care about the right of every American ... to safety and the right to feel safe when they go to work, when they go to their place of worship, when they go to see a movie," said Rahamim, 17.
Rahamim's father, Reuven Rahamim, four employees and a UPS driver were fatally shot at Accent Signage on Sept. 27 by a gunman who took his own life.
Rybak said it's time to put the outrage people feel over gun violence into action.
"In the name of the people who have been lost, we cannot give up this fight," he said.