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. Alex

    Instead of talking about gun control, why dont you talk about why America has this issue with crazy violence? Pour some money into society and family values. that will solve the gun violence issue

    July 26, 2012 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  2. Mike

    CNN we get it. You want no guns in America so our owners can just rule us. Sorry but it will never happen here. Go back to Israel where you came from. We will never allow this to happen in our country. No matter how many okc, 9/11, or colorado killings the govt sets up.

    July 26, 2012 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  3. John Q Public

    I think it's important to protect 2nd amendment rights. What if those who wanted to buy assault weapons had to go through additional training and registration, and they could only be purchased by people who had addresses outside city limits?

    July 26, 2012 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  4. T'sah From Virginia

    ►"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," ◄

    Doggone right – And on top of that – NO ONE should be able to buy thousands of rounds of ammunition in a short period of time and a red flag does not go up – I mean, it goes up when you buy too many bottles of Sudafed!!!

    Obama 2012 – The Only Trusted Way Forward!!

    July 26, 2012 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  5. billmosby

    AK-47s (not fully auto ones, for the most part) also belong in the hands of law-abiding hobbyists and on gun ranges, in my humble opinion. I wouldn't use one for home defense, though. Unless everybody in my neighborhood lived in windowless brick houses.

    July 26, 2012 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  6. California

    Do it Obama, go after guns PLEASE. This country needs just that.

    July 26, 2012 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  7. Kevin

    When this country was under siege back in 1812 who was it that fought. The army, civilian military. The right to bear arms to defend life and limb as well as your friggen country. Just because a man who is developing a severe mental illness takes up arms and kills poor poor unfortunate defenseless people doesn't mean we disarm the whole civilian sector. We might as well get rid of all high speed cars such as corvettes and such. Alcoholic based crimes related to driving while intoxicated also cigarettes kill more than guns in this country. We need better help for those who are ill. If some one reported him and the system was designed to step in and get this man help before he went off the deep end maybe this whole story about death would never have happened.

    July 26, 2012 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  8. C

    Obama knows he will loss the election if he even tries to mess with the second amendment, but let me guarantee all of you that he will be on a mission to abolish all firearms if he is reelected. It will his second and only mission as President during the next 4 years (like Obamacare was in his first term).

    July 26, 2012 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  9. Craig

    Whatever. Obama wouldnt know an AK from a Super Soaker. AK just sounds scary, no more lethal than a Big 5 bought Mini-14 Ranch Rifle.

    July 26, 2012 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  10. Joe D

    Nice sound bite for the uninformed, but little substance and less understanding apparent – like usual.

    The AK-47 is the ultimate demon gun in movies and on tv because it is so easily recognized and originated in the USSR. AK-47 assault rifles (not the civilian model) killed American GIs in Viet Nam and have been in the news for decades, so they make for good media fodder. Thousands of law abiding Americans own them for a wide variety of reasons, mostly for shooting targets at a range. In truth, the AK that your neighbor might own is just an odd looking rifle that has some history behind it and fires a round similar in performance to the lever action cowboy rifles in the movies.

    The last AK I saw was being purchased at a gun shop by a couple in their mid to late 60's. Clearly they were a threat to society with all that firepower in their old hands. Surely the possession of such a demon weapon will cause them to commit horrid acts of violence against mankind. More likely they were just decent people buying a firearm for their own purposes.

    July 26, 2012 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  11. billmosby

    I believe that semi-auto AK-47s also belong in the hands of law-abiding hobbyists and on gun ranges. Also, you can hunt anything with them that you would hunt with a 30-30, given the right ammunition and magazine capacity.

    July 26, 2012 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  12. Mtheumer

    I see no need to enforce traffic laws, if they don't prevent traffic accidents.

    July 26, 2012 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  13. Dave

    It's time to grow some, Mr. President, and get serious about eliminating assault weapons.

    July 26, 2012 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  14. C

    Let's try this. I support Obama and gun control.

    July 26, 2012 01:21 am at 1:21 am |

    Bad move dude. You're gonna lose more votes than you'll gain by implying an assault weapons ban.

    July 26, 2012 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  16. Anonymous

    Surely he knows Holmes used an AR-15 and that our military doesn't normally use AKs... Right?

    July 26, 2012 01:24 am at 1:24 am |
  17. pogojo

    The Colorado shooter used a AR15, this has a .223 round, just a little bigger than a .22. The whole problem is it looks like a military weapon, but no real army would issue these to their troops.

    July 26, 2012 01:25 am at 1:25 am |
  18. William

    "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."

    No they would not agree with you fascist pig. So anyone who is not a soldier is a criminal? YOU need to be impeached.

    1. For killing American Citizens without authority.
    2. For changing the relationship of the people with the government, vis-a-vis, Health Care. For the first time in US history
    the government has the ability to tax for non-activity.

    I am sorry that I ever voted for you. Your signature law was shot down on the commerce clause. And your buddy Roberts saved you, and screwed America. People need AK-47's because we have a government with people like YOU in it....

    July 26, 2012 01:27 am at 1:27 am |
  19. Troy

    I have 3 AK's and 4 AR-15. Lot's of other misc gun's. I haven't had any desire to kill anyone. I just like to shoot.

    July 26, 2012 01:27 am at 1:27 am |
  20. David H.

    Time to figure out what needs to be done with gun control laws so that this kind of incident does not repeat over and over in U.S. history. How does the nation keep weapons out of the hands of those who have no reason to have them? What can be done to protect our right to bear arms, while not allowing the reckless use of weapons for mass destruction? There must be a process that can be created to ensure that registered guns are in the hands of responsible owners and not killers. A process that makes sense and will change the landscape of gun ownership. As a public health student, I am "prevention" focused in dealing with problems. There must be a "preventive" intervention to this problem. Someone figure it out and let's do something to make it happen.

    July 26, 2012 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  21. Maxim

    I believe that the founders gave us the right to bears arms in case of the dire situation of an oppressive government in which the citizens would do their duty and topple the existing regime by force. But weapons technology has advanced so much in the past 100 years, airplanes, tanks, atomic weapons... if the government ever does go astray I don't believe ordinary citizens would be able to do anything about it...

    July 26, 2012 01:28 am at 1:28 am |
  22. Jason

    I find it interesting that the President is saying AK47's belong in the hands of soldiers. Does he know what types of weapons our military uses? We use M4's and M16's. We do not have AK47's being used in combat. In fact, AK47's are the weapon of choice of the Taliban and other enemies fighting us. I really wish he or his speech writers would do some fact checking before he makes an ass of himself again...

    July 26, 2012 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  23. Vidhya

    I'm glad the president came forth to say this. I completely agree. Why does anyone need an AK-47 or any kind of automatic rifle for personal protection or hunting? Reinstate the ban on assualt weapons.

    July 26, 2012 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  24. CNNTom

    Perhaps Obama would have more credibility if he didn't sign the NDAA and extend the patriot act.

    July 26, 2012 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  25. MotoJB

    Better not try to go after law-abiding folks that own AK47's...or you'll have hell to pay.

    July 26, 2012 01:38 am at 1:38 am |
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