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. Dave836

    I really don't like how he's using the theatre shootings for political gains. Especially since it hasn't even been a week yet since it all happened.

    I mean, I agree that psychological tests should be put in place but it just seems in bad taste right now...

    July 26, 2012 02:23 am at 2:23 am |
  2. Reticuli

    He had an AR-15. If he had an AK-47 it wouldn't have jammed. Thank god he bought American. My thought on the gun rights issue is that Americans perpetually reserve the right to be capable of overthrowing the government if they need to. And considering the origin of our nation, that seems pretty consistent. We need better background checks and a better mental health system. Especially the latter. Maybe the post-2014 healthcare era will improve that.

    July 26, 2012 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  3. westcoast

    Thankyou , thankyou, thankyou, President Obama! Finally some common sense on this gun issue.

    OK I get that people want to own a gun for protection. But what possible scenario would anyone need to use an AK-47? If it wasn't for a mass killing? It's insane that these, killing machines, are allowed to be sold to the general public. Just insane.

    Thank you President Obama.

    July 26, 2012 02:28 am at 2:28 am |
  4. tylenol

    spoken like a true chicagowan,, play pleeeze

    July 26, 2012 02:28 am at 2:28 am |
  5. N Vinny Veritas

    Am waiting for, and expecting the flood of orchestrated "AK-47's are part of the necessary militia the founding fathers were referring to"... coupled with the lunacy of the "when you pry it from my cold dead hand" crowd. PLUS- my comment never being posted, because it's being reviewed by Big Brother moderator.

    July 26, 2012 02:28 am at 2:28 am |
  6. John

    They all belong in a giant smelting pot (except for a few museum pieces), after war is finally practiced no more.

    July 26, 2012 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  7. Jeffision

    "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 voice of sanity and common sense.

    July 26, 2012 02:29 am at 2:29 am |
  8. Dennis Michael Maloney

    'A well regulated militia, being essential to the security of a free state, the right of the people keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.' Why did the drafters write it that way? To protect our infant country socraticly speaking, therefore since it is one sentence with 2 commas let only militias keep and bear arms, anyone and everyone else extremely strict intractably hard requirements and waiting periods and a surety bond and cosigner inuring liability. And local governments keep giving out cash for turned in weapons. Prez is right, AK47s to no one outside the military. And let the United Nations pass and ratify the first ever international arms control treaty being pushed by Amnesty International.

    July 26, 2012 02:30 am at 2:30 am |
  9. gacarlo

    Why would any citizen need an ak47? That is a hypothetical questionn.

    July 26, 2012 02:31 am at 2:31 am |
  10. noneyobeeswax

    He has a point. The reason cops use handgun ammunition is so that it does not go through 2 or 3 houses with every shot. There is no defensible reason why a civilian should need a weapon designed specifically to go through an engine block or a flak jacket with a armored insert. For crying out loud copper is the SOFT part of a military round.

    July 26, 2012 02:32 am at 2:32 am |
  11. gacarlo

    Excuse me, why would any American citizen need an ak 47

    July 26, 2012 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  12. Dee

    Finally, THAT'S leadership! Mr. Romney, your ball!

    July 26, 2012 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  13. david louis moser

    MR obama.....you should not speek on matters that you have no expierience in or on subbjects that realy shouldnt concern you ,your job is to work for me in governing my country side,but when you enter my home with your beliefs and morals dont get upset when you see that i own an ak 47 once owned by my now dead enemy and i will use it to kill any new enemys,Laws or no laws..im america...as for gun violence...well we need parenting from our parents not from a public servent turned career man,btw,i dont own a gun,because i dont have no money(gas prices)mad max for pres!

    July 26, 2012 02:33 am at 2:33 am |
  14. Al

    I agree with President Obama. Keep the AK-47's off the streets.

    July 26, 2012 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  15. berserk247

    Oh yeah Obama...or belong in the hands of Mexican drug cartels given to by US and used to kill border patrol agents. -_- RON PAUL 2012 or stfu

    July 26, 2012 02:35 am at 2:35 am |
  16. Furious

    "The (P)resident'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.

    This view is in direct opposition to granting Executive Privilege for AG Eric Holder under the Fast & Furious investigation.

    July 26, 2012 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  17. Stupid alien

    What I really want to know is whether the NRA would support any limitation whatsoever on the 'right to bear arms'. They have a moral responsibility to speak up. Seems like they are okay with anything from Uzis to surface to air missiles and beyond. God help a country that is being run by a weapons industry.

    July 26, 2012 02:40 am at 2:40 am |
  18. Mike

    I have the perfect solution for the GOP in their quest to suppress the Democratic vote (ahem, I mean "root out voter fraud"). In order to register to vote, you have to present your gun license.

    July 26, 2012 02:44 am at 2:44 am |
  19. T Simon

    I support the right to near arms. I do not believe citizens need assault weapons, body armor,tear gas canisters, or multiple round weapons. I do not believe someone should be able to order 6000 rounds of ammo thru the mail. Enough is enough. I should feel safe in public as well as my home

    July 26, 2012 02:48 am at 2:48 am |
  20. loops808

    Fast and Furious sent thousands of weapons to criminals in Mexico, which killed hundreds of Mexicans. I believe this conversation should begin with following the laws already on the books and addressing this failed operation.

    July 26, 2012 02:51 am at 2:51 am |
  21. Benjamin Campbell

    Then why were you allowing them to be shipped south of the border Barry? Got something to hide?

    July 26, 2012 02:54 am at 2:54 am |
  22. Anonymous

    There he goes

    July 26, 2012 02:54 am at 2:54 am |
  23. sigmond seamonster

    aAn political stance from the same man who can now authorize a drone execution without a fair trial of someone deemed a "threat" to the American Government. Pathetic hypocritical Corporate Puppet.

    July 26, 2012 02:54 am at 2:54 am |
  24. Michael Kalpesh

    AK-47, when you absolutely, positivist have to kill every mofo in the room.

    July 26, 2012 02:55 am at 2:55 am |
  25. mom of five

    my husband owns a shotgun,a black powder gun,+a 22 so I am for gun rights. However he used to own a semi-automatic handgun with 2, 3O rd. magazines and a russian sks that had a 3O round magazine. After a lot of complaining he got rid of those. You do not need these for hunting animals! I would love to see a ban on all such assault weapons! I believe in the right to bear arms. Just not bazookas+assault weapons! Wake up these guns are killing people+that's the reason for them!

    July 26, 2012 02:55 am at 2:55 am |
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