SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's police chief says he wants to find a way to have "reasonable, responsible gun ownership."
Chris Burbank was among a group of police chiefs who met for about an hour Monday with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and others at the White House to talk about the divisive issue of gun control in America. What many of the police chiefs in attendance had in common was that they all had experienced mass shootings in their towns.
Burbank — who has dealt with both the Trolley Square massacre and the shooting of a heavily armed AWOL soldier on a downtown city street in recent years — joined police chiefs from Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Oak Creek, Wis.; and Tucson, Ariz. He was originally in town for the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association's annual winter conference. Burbank is vice president of the group.
Burbank said it was a unique opportunity to talk with the president about violence in America and the impact it is having on cities across the U.S. The most troubling trend he said he has seen in recent years is "more frequent active shooter situations" where the only intention of the shooter is "to do harm and to murder people."
"That's what's so alarming — these people take steps to make sure these people die, not just get hit," he said.
But it's not just mass shooting incidents such as those at Sandy Hook, Columbine and the Aurora movie theater that the chief said the group is trying to prevent.
"We have a responsibility to do whatever it takes to prevent the citizens of our nation from being killed in circumstances like that or situations that happen in our nation daily," he said.
Burbank said the government can't focus all of its efforts into protecting schools, because shooters will just end up picking a new target. While these violent incidents will never be completely eliminated, Burbank said efforts need to be taken to try and reduce them everywhere.
"We need to look for reasonable solutions and limit our exposure to these risks," he said.
The president reiterated his call for Congress to reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban and pass legislation to limit high-capacity magazines and require universal background checks.
The issue of mental illness and gun ownership was also discussed at length Monday, Burbank said.
"No matter what your position is on the Second Amendment ... these individuals have access to firearms," he said.
Burbank pointed to the August 2010 incident in which AWOL soldier Brandon S. Barrett, 28, was spotted at the Grand America Hotel wearing full body armor and carrying a .223-caliber assault rifle, two handguns and nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition. In situations like that, Burbank said the problem was, "That person was carrying a firearm legally, there was nothing our police officers could have done until he shoots and kills his first victim.
"How do you know? You can never say, 'Oh, I know that person isn't intending to do me harm,'" Burbank said.
The public should never be put in position to have to second guess the intentions of a person openly carrying a firearm, Burbank said. "I don't know how you look into somebody's mind."
If police officers were to walk around Salt Lake City with assault rifles strapped to their backs, the chief believes "the outcry would be that we're a police state and out of our minds."
The tragedy at Sandy Hook has spurred a lot of emotion in the country, Burbank acknowledged. He believes a "reasonable middle" that addresses both constitutional concerns as well as concerns from the public needs to be found.
Burbank said he was "very impressed" with how Obama not only listened Monday but was engaged in the conversation and asked questions and challenged the chiefs present to help find solutions.
“I agree with the president from his position that if there is some way that we can save even one life or that we can prevent a tragedy like this from occurring, then we certainly owe it to the nation to look at that and find out if that is an avenue that we need to take,” Burbank said.
“There’s not a piece of legislation that I’ve seen that said anyone — federal government or otherwise — is going to come and take firearms away. It all talks about future restrictions on access.”
Contributing: Dave Cawley