SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City's police chief sees easy access to firearms as one of the primary factors in the rash of mass shootings that have taken place across the United States in recent years and is supportive of proposed restrictions.
Chief Chris Burbank joined fellow law enforcement officials in addressing the topic with President Barack Obama Monday at the White House. Burbank serves as vice president for the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association and is in Washington, D.C. for the group's annual winter conference. He received the invitation only a short time before the meeting.
"It involved the leadership of the Major Cities Chiefs," Burbank said. "Unfortunately there were many people in the room who had experienced some violence in their own city."
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.
–Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank
That included the police chiefs from Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Oak Creek, Wis.; and Tucson, Ariz. among others.
"Kind of an infamous group, unfortunately," Burbank said. "Salt Lake City of course we had our own Trolley Square incident and then I honestly believe that we had another potential incident that because of a circumstance we were able to resolve and that was the shooter at one of our downtown hotels."
That is in reference to an Aug. 27, 2010 shootout between an AWOL soldier and Salt Lake City police officers outside the Grand America Hotel. The soldier, 28-year-old Brandon S. Barrett, arrived at the hotel in fatigues and body armor, carrying a .223-caliber assault rifle, two handguns and nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
Hotel security denied him access to the building's upper levels. Officer Uppsen Downs then confronted Barrett across the street from the hotel, shooting and killing him.
While Barrett was a military member with firearms training, Burbank said he believes the public's access to such weapons is part of the larger problem.
"We need to do something to stem the violence, and part of that is access to firearms," he said. "I am not here to say, nor is any chief in the country, that firearms are completely to blame for it but it is certainly part of the problem."
President Obama offered weight to the perspective of law enforcement officials at the outset of the meeting, saying they are "where the rubber hits the road" when it comes to gun violence. He also used the opportunity to push for congressional action on universal background checks for gun buyers and a renewed ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Salt Lake City's chief sees that as a valid approach.
"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.
Also present at the meeting were leaders of the Major County Sheriffs' Association, along with Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Burbank said he did not come away from the meeting with the sense that any of the federal officials are interested in seizing weapons from the hands of law-abiding gun owners.
"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," he said. "It all talks about future restrictions on access."
Both Burbank and Obama pointed out that gun violence is not only restricted to the so-called "active shooter" attempting to kill many people at once in a crowded area. Burbank, for his part, said too many people die each day in shootings.
"There needs to be some responsibility of not only police chiefs and sheriffs, but of politicians and the public in general needs to stand up and say ‘this is what's acceptable in our society and this is what we're unwilling to live with,'" he said.