Why is Obama in Minnesota to push gun control?

President Obama is promoting a renewed ban on assault weapons and expanded background checks on gun buyers. But Minnesota is simply the first stop as the administration mounts its public-diplomacy campaign.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
President Obama waves to reporters as he walks across the South Lawn to board the Marine One helicopter for departure to Minnesota, where he will deliver remarks on reducing gun violence, from the White House in Washington, Monday.

President Obama on Monday is in Minnesota pushing his proposals to curb US gun violence. He’ll visit the Minneapolis Police Department’s Special Operations Center and make remarks promoting a renewed ban on assault weapons and expanded background checks on gun buyers.

It’s the first time Mr. Obama has traveled outside Washington as he tries to build support for his approach to gun control, the Associated Press notes. Why Minnesota? That’s a long way to fly in Air Force One for a speech and photo ops that could easily have been done in states closer to D.C.

The short answer is that Minnesota is a reliably blue state, and Minneapolis officials have taken steps to attempt to curb gun violence that Obama would like to duplicate on the national level. So it gives him a good backdrop, so to speak, from which to deliver words aimed at the nation as a whole.

"Minneapolis is a city that has taken important steps to reduce gun violence and foster a conversation in the community about what further action is needed,” the White House said in a statement prior to the trip.

Beginning in 2008, the city has allocated more resources toward at-risk youth and the rehabilitation of young criminals, according to the White House. Minneapolis hosted a regional summit on gun violence in January, and Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau is among the officials that the White House has tapped in its ongoing attempts to figure out what further gun-related measures the president should push.

The longer answer is that Minnesota is simply the first stop as the administration mounts a public-diplomacy campaign on an issue fraught with emotions on both sides.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin drawing up some kind of gun legislation this month, and thus now is the time for Obama to try to put some sort of grass-roots pressure on lawmakers. According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s likely the legislation will include most of what Obama wants, including universal background checks and new limits on high-capacity magazines.

But note that’s “most,” not all. The Journal adds that the bill may not contain a renewal of the ban on assault weapons, in part because of lack of support from Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

Obama clearly wants to continue pressing the assault weapons ban and other measures before Senate action makes that something of a moot point. And now may be a good time to try to rally public opinion. The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., appears to have moved the needle on overall public opinion about gun control in a way previous mass shootings have not.

According to an interesting post in The Monkey Cage political blog, there’s more than poll evidence that people are still talking about gun control weeks after Newtown. A New York University analysis of more than 5 million tweets shows sharp spikes in social-media discussion of gun policy-related keywords.

“What’s interesting about this is that it provides at least some rudimentary evidence that it is not just those in the media that are continuing to talk about topics such as gun control; it is the mass public as well,” writes NYU politics professor Joshua Tucker.

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