July 25th, 2012
09:51 PM ET
11 years ago

Obama takes on gun violence in New Orleans speech

(CNN) - Days after the Colorado movie theater massacre, President Barack Obama on Wednesday forcefully spoke out against gun violence, making perhaps some of his strongest comments yet as president on the issue.

While the president said he stands by the Second Amendment and recognizes the traditions of hunting and gun ownership in the country, he told a crowd at a gathering for the National Urban League in New Orleans that there is work left to be done in tackling the problem.

"I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals," Obama said. "That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities."

The president has largely steered away from talking about gun laws. While he visited the families of victims in Aurora, Colorado on Sunday, he did not wade into the political debate over gun legislation that dominated national dialogue over the weekend.

Talk of gun rights was also largely absent from Obama's speech in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting in 2009 and after then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot in Tucson, Arizona, last year. The president mentioned gun safety only in passing after the Tucson shootings to describe the polarizing nature of the issue.

Two months later, he wrote an op-ed outlining a plan that included enforcing existing laws and rewarding states that provide the best data about gun owners. But until Wednesday, he had mostly refrained from making public comments about the issue.

On Wednesday, however, Obama emphasized a need for background checks and the prevention of "mentally unbalanced" individuals from obtaining guns. He faulted opposition in Congress for lack of progress made in reducing violence.

"These steps shouldn't controversial. They should be common sense," Obama said, though without elaborating too specifically on measures of enforcement.

"We should leave no stone unturned and recognize that we have no greater mission as a country than keeping our young people safe," he added.

Speaking aboard Air Force One as the president flew Sunday to meet with families of those killed, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama did not have plans to push for new legislation in light of the Colorado shooting.

"The president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law. And that's his focus right now," Carney said, adding it was too early to determine how the issue would play in the election.

Obama's silence on gun rights in the days after Aurora caused some critics to question the president's position on the issue. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday pointed to Obama's 2008 campaign promise to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons.

"The president has spent the last three years trying to avoid the issue, or if he's facing it, I don't know anybody that's seen him face it," Bloomberg said on CBS News, also calling on Mitt Romney to lay out his vision to reduce gun violence.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said Monday that he also saw no need for new laws and reiterated those comments on Wednesday, saying a change in legislation won't stop those who truly want to do harm.

"I don't know that I'm going be able to find a way to prevent people who want to provide harm from being able to purchase things that can carry out that harm. What I want to do is find the people that represent a danger to America and find them and keep them from having the capacity to use or buy things that can harm or hurt other people," Romney said in an interview with NBC News.

Obama on Wednesday, echoing similar refrains, said that government can only do so much in terms of preventing violence.

"Even as we debate government's role, we have to understand that when a child opens fire on another child, there's a hole in that child's heart that government alone can't fill," the president said Wednesday, stressing the role of families, teachers and community leaders in the upbringing of children.

- CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin and CNN White House Producer Gabriella Schwarz contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2012 • President Obama
soundoff (703 Responses)
  1. Westminster

    he don't like guns and I don't either

    July 25, 2012 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  2. when your nightmares end WILLARD begins

    uh oh I KNEW IT...he's gonna take everybody's guns away!

    July 25, 2012 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  3. evolve1

    More idiotic rhetoric that has no other purpose than to push a failed political agenda. Why is it that when a mass shooting occurs in any other country, like Germany or Norway, that the dialogue is about the person who committed the act and the social dynamics that led them to do it, rather than about an inanimate object that could just as easily have been replaced with a bomb, poisonous chemicals, etc.? The problem here isn't guns. Gun violence, just like all other forms of violent crime, has dropped precipitously over the last 20 years, the same period of time over which we've moved from a country where the public carrying of loaded concealed guns for self-defense has gone from illegal in almost every state to legal in all but one. Separating out acts committed with guns, instead of focusing on all violence and its causes, is nothing but a pathetic and counter-productive political ploy. It blames something that has never been shown to be a cause, and distracts us from evaluating where the real problem lie. It is the hallmark of someone who couldn't care less about a solution and is instead just trying to exploit tragedy for short-term political gain.

    July 25, 2012 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  4. King

    as the president said we are not living in Lebanon or Syria, why. do we need automatic weapons, we ain't soldiers, hey it's better for the NRA to make a little less money, in order to save a little more lives

    July 25, 2012 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  5. uysfl

    i agree. pistols, rifles, and shotguns are ok. assault rifles are for gang bangers and unnecessary for home defense unless you want to kill your neighbors too.

    July 25, 2012 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  6. bannister

    "AK-47s are for soldiers."

    Yes Mr Obama. And the White House is for Americans....

    July 25, 2012 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  7. Dave

    AK-47's are in the hands of enemy combatants, I wouldn't call them soldiers.

    July 25, 2012 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  8. Reject Repugs

    Finally- a sensible stance against freak-show gun-nuts!

    July 25, 2012 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  9. Mitzie

    Finally! The reason this issue seems dead is because our countries leaders don't address it.

    July 25, 2012 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  10. nolimits3333

    1,000,000 Americans have been killed by guns since 1960.

    What would the reaction be if 1,000,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists?

    July 25, 2012 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  11. Justin

    Very valid point: Ultimately, the only people that can truly keep our unstable or emotionally distraught citizens from reaching a hopeless point in their lives, is love. Be it from parent, friend, other family, there needs to be someone there for the other. It's sad knowing that we would rather hide behind our keyboards and fling accusations then actually reach out to our neighbors and see how their health is, how they are coping with this world..

    I wonder if anyone really ever even asked how James Holmes' day was going?

    July 25, 2012 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  12. tfbuckfutter

    The biggest problem with gun ownership is that most of the people who want to own guns are the people who really shouldn't be owning guns.

    July 25, 2012 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  13. techusn

    Every citizens right to fight for their county. They just choose not to fight for the feds so he wants to take the guns away.

    July 25, 2012 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  14. bibleverse1

    I dont know of much hunting done with AK47. The laws already work to keep guns out of the hands of criminals through normal retail outlets. The laws do little to curb black market sales.

    July 25, 2012 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  15. really

    I have to respect Obama for waiting until some of the victims from Aurora are buried.

    July 25, 2012 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  16. jimzcarz

    AK-47's belong in the hands of enemy soldiers..We make AR-15's remember?

    July 25, 2012 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  17. MontanaSon

    Yeah, yeah, Little Chavez. And 12 gauge shotguns belong in the hands of IRS agents.

    July 25, 2012 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  18. brian

    Guns are the last defense we have against a tyrannical government. Each day we're losing more and more of our freedoms it's only a matter of time before they're all gone and we have our thumbs up our butts with no protection when the government comes knocking on your door.

    July 25, 2012 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  19. Sickofidiots

    I am not a soldier or a criminal, but you can't have mine.

    July 25, 2012 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  20. Mike

    So should we prosecute the guys who sell assault rifles? LIke...oh say...Eric Holder?

    July 25, 2012 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  21. Tubby the Tuba Texas

    No to AK-47s, and any assault weapons....the lay people do not need such weaponary! Hands guns, and rifles should be all that is needed.

    July 25, 2012 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  22. Some guy

    Or in the hands of Mexican drug cartels, gratas Holder, Obama Et al.

    July 25, 2012 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  23. Two Of AKind -

    Another bandwagon for him to jump on for votes............................ Where's he BEEN during the ongoing discussions across the Nation?

    Isn't he bright though !- "AK-47s are for soldiers." wOW!

    July 25, 2012 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    "I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals".

    So what he is saying, anyone who is not a soldier, is a criminal.

    July 25, 2012 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  25. techusn

    So he thinks the only soldiers are the one he commands. I believe its the right of every american citizen still to form a militia. Why restrict this, Many thoughts on this but my thought on the matter is plain "The Government wants more leverage over You!" Obama's comment tonight should hold no weight the government is frightened of its people and they are trying very hard to change that.

    July 25, 2012 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
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