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. Jon Freder

    The second amendment exists to protect the right of the people to possess weapons with a military application. When the supreme court upheld the NFA (National firearms act), in the 1938 Miller case, it did so on the grounds that a sawed off shotgun was not such a weapon and was thus subject to regulation. There will always be a need for guns until the people throw off the yoke of their Capitalist oppressors. Workers of the world, ARM YOURSELVES!

    July 26, 2012 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  2. S

    which is why our government put ak-47's in the hands of Mexican criminals (fast & furious)? I'm confused, Mr. President...

    July 26, 2012 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  3. Vince

    Although The Obama Adminstration has actually done nothing to increase gun control, despite what the right states, now they have something to focus in on and beat to death on Fox Noise. Oh Lordy! Obama wants to take my assault rifle. Now you will have the spike in gun sales just like after he was elected.

    July 26, 2012 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  4. Pure

    AK-47's that allow 3 round burst and full automatic mode with special sights not available to the general public are for soldiers.

    The ones sold to the average Joe is no different than any other semi-automatic rifle.

    July 26, 2012 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  5. Wow-really

    Really, AK47's belong in the hands of soldiers and not on the streets?!?!? Fast and Furious?!?! What a revelation! You've got to be kidding me...with the army of handlers, the degrees, the "change" he promised and this is all he has to say...sad that we expect leadership from him...just sad.

    July 26, 2012 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  6. Richard

    Then why doesn't Obama start working on stripping indian reservations of the immunity they have when selling weapons illegally? Much of the gun's traffic comes from them to biker gangs who sell then on to criminals.

    July 26, 2012 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  7. mark

    >"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,"

    Uh – what soldiers? The AK-47 is not the standard issue of any of the U.S. Branches. Might want to know something about your own military force "Commander in Chief"

    And what does the ak-47 have to do with the current situation anyway? The Colorado shooter didn't USE an ak-47...

    >we have no greater mission as a country than keeping our young people safe,
    Uh – yes we do. We have no greater mission than protecting America's freedom. "Keeping our young people safe" is NOT the mission, though we should try to do what we can.

    We NEED to get this man out of office.

    July 26, 2012 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  8. SRsage

    Seems like Obama is signing his own death warrant here, the NRA is definitely going to make sure his presidency does not last. I've been all around the country during my career and a few things that stand out are how readily available "assault" style wapons are in a majority of states. Yo ucan purchase them in gun stores, pawn shops or gun expos. There will not be a time anytime in the near future where a president is going to convince gun owners or the NRA what Americans can or can not own as far as firearms are concerned.

    I readily believe that assault style firearms only belong in the hands of a soldier on a battlefield and not in the hands of an average gun owner. However we must also admit they will ALWAYS (regardless of legislation or opinion) be available to a criminal element. Let's really fac it here, theColoroado shooter was a neuroscience major (brain surgeon) who came from a wonderful family and was in the top 1% of his class and even working for the college itself. He had NO CRIMINAL record. My countrymen there will never be a way to just tell who is going to start shooting people in our country. If this man can pull off the largest mass shooting in US HIstory (one of the best of society) than anyone anywhere can do the same regardless of background or belief. Welcome to reality.

    July 26, 2012 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  9. concerned student

    What happened in Colorado is absolutely terrible. Unfortunately there is a debate about it now. What people fail to realize is that many people don't purchase guns for hunting. They are purchased to fight tyrannical governments.

    July 26, 2012 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  10. Timothy Smith

    I believe that if the President promised to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons, he should be held accountable to his promise. None of his unfulfilled promises should be forgotten in the excitement of his accomplishments. If I give you my vote because of your promise in exchange, I expect the promise to be fulfilled. If not, I feel as if you've submitted false information on your job application Mr. President; and according to federal law, that deserves some kind of penalty.

    July 26, 2012 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  11. antibarry

    Actually assault rifles need to be kept by American citizens. When Barry and the UN try to disarm us they will be needed.

    July 26, 2012 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  12. Dalynn B. Parks

    The only soldiers who use AK-47's are our enemies. The suspect in CO was using a Bushmaster AR-15, which is the semi-auto version of our soldiers M-16's/M-4's. Only Obama could make such a gaffe! (facepalm)

    July 26, 2012 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  13. carbon dioxide

    It is true that Ak-47 dont belong in the hands of violent criminals but there is nothing wrong with them in the hands of good citizens. I trust my neighbors and friends with their AR-15 over the Government. How many people has the government killed with drone attacks that were innocent? How many people has the government killed in foreign wars based on false pretenses. How is more likely to violate my rights-my AR-15 armed friends or the government?

    July 26, 2012 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  14. John Judish

    Don't wimp out Mr. President. Now is the time to take a stand.

    July 26, 2012 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  15. carbon dioxide

    People have known for a long time Obama was going to try to restrict guns. He was just looking for an excuse. Those conspiracy websites my have been right all along huh

    July 26, 2012 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  16. jjones

    He had and AR-15 not an AK-47, and our military carries M-16s.

    July 26, 2012 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  17. Chris R.

    Yes, but the 'right to bare arms' is there so that no government would feel complete free to control it's citizens as they work for us and not the other way around. An AK-47 belongs in the hands of a responsible person, no a criminal, nor just a soldier. While I do think some controls need to be in place for safety, you need to be VERY careful what you let the government do. They will slowly strip away your rights until you have none left, all the time saying they are doing it for your own good. lol.....! How do they know what are 'own good' is? They work for us, not us for them. And they need to be reminded of that. There has been, will always be violence, criminals, and those who make mistakes. No amount of laws or restrictions will ended violence. His statements are misleading. If someone wants to kill people, they will find a way to do it weather it be a gun or a mass poisoning. A government is afraid of a society it controls, that has guns, weapons, and the means to enforce their will. Do not let them take this away from you.

    July 26, 2012 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  18. Appoe

    Yes, hunting and guns are just "Traditions", they're not part of the laws of the land or anything. This president continues to be a joke to the ideals and the way of life that generations have fought for here. It's very sad.

    July 26, 2012 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  19. roberto crespo

    Stop selling arms to criminals....

    July 26, 2012 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  20. Chris

    I totally agree something more needs to be done about the sale of assault weapons and regular firearms to people that should not have them. There needs to be a single United States law that every state must follow, or firearms cannot be sold there at all. This would eliminate different states from making their own gun purchase requirements, keeping someone that can't buy an assault rifle in one state, from going to another one, or have a family member in another state buy it for them. No matter what strict laws and requirements are put into force, the criminal element that desires weapons to conduct their business will always find a way to obtain them. I hope something gets done soon so that more innocent lives aren't lost from these acts of evil on our citizens.


    July 26, 2012 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  21. Name

    The should be president has done a great job, guns be control.

    July 26, 2012 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  22. roberto crespo

    Stop selling arms to everybody....

    July 26, 2012 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  23. Dave NY USA

    "Obama: AK-47s are for soldiers"

    Sir, do you even BEGIN to now who is more likely to carry an AK?
    Do you even KNOW what "AK" stands for?

    July 26, 2012 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  24. JohnGunTote

    I believe guns should be restricted to just anyone who actually needs them for their profession. it's rediculous that so many people feel like they need the 'right' to own a weapon that has the potential of killing dozens of people with the squeeze of a trigger.

    July 26, 2012 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  25. Steven E

    AK 47's belong in the hands of the military but don't forget the drug cartels and gang members in East LA. Good luck getting them back now.

    July 26, 2012 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
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