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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama kept up pressure on Congress Monday to pass tough new gun legislation, seeking help from law enforcement leaders in three communities that have suffered the horrors of mass shootings.
At a White House meeting, Obama said that no group is more important in the gun debate and he said he recognizes the issue "elicits a lot of passion all across the country." But Obama also said he believes Congress will respond to appeals from police.
"Hopefully if law enforcement officials who are dealing with this stuff every single day can come to some basic consensus in terms of steps that we need to take," he said, "Congress is going to be paying attention to them, and we'll be able to make progress."
The president's meeting comes as he tries to build support for gun control legislation that will be difficult to get through Congress. He urged Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, limit high capacity magazines and require universal background checks.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina has indicated he will be using the power of the president's still intact political organization to mobilize support for the legislation. Messina traveled to New York City last week to meet with aides to Mayor Michael Bloomberg at City Hall, according to a person familiar with the discussion, speaking on a condition of anonymity since the meeting was private. Bloomberg has tightened gun laws in the city and founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition that now has more than 800 mayors pushing for national legislation.
Obama met in the Roosevelt Room with the heads of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Major County Sheriffs Association, members of his Cabinet and chiefs that responded to the worst shootings of 2012. That includes Aurora, Colo., where 12 were killed in July; Oak Creek, Wis., where six died in a Sikh temple assault: and Newtown, Conn., scene of the most recent mass tragedy that left 20 first-graders dead.
Obama also said that Washington needs to take mental health issues and school safety more seriously and should help law enforcement agencies hire more police, make sure they get the training they need and give rural forces the resources they need to deal with emergencies.
"Many of them also recognize that it's not only the high profile mass shootings that are of concern here," the president said. "It's also what happens on a day in day out basis in places like Chicago or Philadelphia where young people are victims of gun violence every single day.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz in New York City contributed to this report.