(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.
Sounds like it's started already. This is the beginning of more gun restrictions. Can't say i see a reason why someone would need an assault rifle, but once it begins, it won't end until we're fighting back with nothing but sticks and stones.
A continuation of an unhealthy status-quo ... We are told to trust our neighbors... I don't need a gun and never did... Why do you?? Fear is the core programming... Like mobsters are those who tell you that they will protect you... Or that maybe you need a personal gun... For your safety...
Thank you !
Only law enforcement and the military need weapons that delver so many rounds.
There is a difference between a hunting riffle and an assault weapon or a 9mm with a 30 round clip.
Shop for asalt riffe on Google , crazy world !
Basing policy on a single isolated event, no matter how tragic, is unwise and will lead to bad policy based on emotion rather than fact and reason.
though i believe that ak 47s do not belong in the hands of criminals, i also do not believe that they should belong in the hands of military only. There is no reason why any law abiding citizen should no be aloud that same right.
Well, maybe if the government actually stopped selling AK-47's to criminals, that would be a good start?
I think AK-47s should ban period. And stop worring about the ARA!
sadly, we forget about common sense and trust faux news too much
Now do something about it Mr. President. Talk is cheap.
The second amendment is NOT a "recreational" amendment and is NOT meant for "hunting". I hope the president stick by the economy and try to fix it instead of trying to explain the second amendment for us. We don't need explanation for the second amendment, we already know what it means. and NO, we're not giving up our weapons because the country has some anti gun freaks.
The controversy will never go away, and we will always be the number one industrialized nation, firearm murder capital of the world. We are about 9400 last year. Germany in a DISTANT second at ~260.
The 2nd Amendment is to protect against tyranny. Its not for hunting.
At lest they have a wedge issue this election cycle.
Guns do not kill people, pencils don't make spelling mistakes, and forks do not make you fat.
Actually our soldiers don't use AK-47s...you'd think he would have said M-16s, AR-15s, heck, even HK-93s, but oh well, I should be happy he didn't say our corpsemen don't use AKs...
Yeah its not like any of our highly trained soldiers have ever used their weapons on innocent people before.
luckily the guy didn't use an AK-47. Too bad even the President is ignorant of the facts. Also, what kind of stupid statement is that, NO gun belongs in the hands of "criminals!!"
Can't wait for November – ONE & DONE!!
As a gun owner, I'm embarrassed by the concept that a standard review is ok for both a .22 handgun as well as a multi-round semi-automatic rifle. As responsible gun owners, we can do better than that. And we owe it to our communities to find a way to do better. A .22 can kill, a semi-auto rifle can kill more and faster.
Wrong, if it is a semi-auto AK-47, which is what everyone buys, is does not have more fire power or capability than any traditional hunting rifle. They just look scary and it is easier to find large magazines for them than with hunting rifles. So that will be the government's way of doing nothing and making it seem like they are doing something. Make laws against scary looking guns that does not actually reduce gun violence at all. People should read the language of the last assault rifle ban. It was a ban on looks, not on function. In other words, a completely worthless law.
Shooting an AK-47 is a serious rush. Other than that, there is no reason for a civilian to own one.
Take our guns and all Hell will break loose"
Damn shame how all politicians shake in their boots and tremor in fear at the thought of getting on the wrong side of the NRA, therefore avoiding the inevitable...
Perhaps he should consider giving this speech to his AG, who's been selling such weapons to the very criminals he says should not have them?
Thank the lord, we need to have all citizens unarmed and only r state should have them. All love the goverment, they are the only ones we can trust these days.
The domino theory. Start small then get them all.
British did that.
Violent assaults in Britain are up 70% since they all but banned firearms.
lol at president obama. The second amendment states that in order for the citizens of the united states to protect themselves from an oppresive government, that their weapons/guns must match those of any standing army. weapons must be up to date. Although we have witnessed a tragedy at the hands of some madman, taking weapons away from those who legally possess them will make them MUCH vulnerable to those who illegally possess them. Gun control isn't the answer. More in depth evaluations into the psyche and well being/intentions of the person purchasing the weapon should be made though.