(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.
i think a compromise should be made in the next assault weapons bill. I am a historian who collects old rifles. I had to get the bayonet lugs ground off some of my WWII rifles in order for them to be legal. Perhaps a new law could make an exception. I think the gun people would like that too
Does this mean the President will finally start fighting the blatant thuggery and murder done by law enforcement continuously for many decades? We still have murderous cops, thugs in uniform, who kill or attack innocent people.
When is he going to address this?
Just saying...with Greece the way it is...and our impending collapse of the dollar...I want my guns before I want my Orwellian America.
Ak 47 or not.Guns should be kept away from youth in all ramification.This "Ȋ̝̊̅s a challenge to all parents,teachers and community leaders.God bless America.
But gun violence has decreased. We are at 1963 murder rates despite a decrease in gun restrictions.
I have been saying the same thing for DECADES. I own guns but not assault rifles that were meant for militaries. NOBODY but the armed forces should. We need to outlaw them and collect them from theIDIOTS that do own them.
If the government won't secure our borders, allow terrorists to just come right on in, give illegal aliens more rights than citizens, then we have to become soldiers to protect ourselves and families.
You know this is a hard issue for most of us. On one hand I fear if the Global rich corporations get control completely of our Country I want to think we would be able to arm a militia to defend America. But in order to arm Americans against a military that is using drones and weapons of mass destruction every American would have to have the right to buy every military weapon made and that's a scary thought. Yet for many that's clearly what the second amendment says.. On the other hand using a tragedy to take away certain guns or letting the Government know what guns and amo you buy presents another problem. It could be a way for Government to control and take away the only protection against the very real threat of a Government gone bad...So as much as I see a need for some reasonable regulation I think we should start with building more mental health clinics that are free so if a parent knows their child however old they are needs help or is a danger to society they can find the help they need for their child. I bet James Holmes parents knew their son was I'll but couldn't do a thing about it except pray and hope for the best...
Thank God someone is willing to say what everyone is thinking. Take on the gun fanatics in this country once and for all. All this rhetoric about protecting ourselves against the government is BS. Why stop at assult rifles in that case? Why can I not buy an RPG or a tank, if I need to protect myself against the big bad federal government? Personal protection? Fine, buy a hand gun or rifle. BAN assult rifles, because they only serve the fringe element and nut jobs.
What I want to do is find the people that represent a danger to America (Romney) and find them and keep them from having the capacity to use (the power or persuasion of political office)or buy things(the election with his filthy money) that can harm or hurt other people(us, the American public)
ak-47 belong outside of the US, we use accuracy over that trash
You can ban weapons all you want. Criminals still get them. Laws only stop the innocent.
Obama should stick to what he knows, how to fleece black and stupid voters,
I don't recall where an ak47 was used in the latest mass murder, it was an ar15, a shotgun and a pistol,
besides ak47's are usualt semi auto's unless you live in a state that allows full auto weapons.
thats right an AK47 can be just like an AR15, a semi auto.
Humans will always find new ways to kill each other, sad to say if the aurora killer wanted a higher body count, he could have barricaded the exit doors an set the place on fire.
I laugh every time I see people freaking out about AK-47's. Other than they look frieghtening and have a 20 round clip they are less powerful than a 30-06 hunting rifle, which depending on the type can have up to 10 round capacity. The 7.62x39mm round that the ak-47 chambers is a mid-range round when talking about impact. The AR-15 are .223 and also a mid-range impact bullet. Go ahead, outlaw them. We'll just start buying up larger and more powerful weapons.
Well – finally a President that dares to speak the truth about what most of the country is thinking but are afraid to say it. Good for you – stand up to the mafia NRA – you got the testicles going dude now just don't back down!!!!!
Romney's statement ""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...." is ridiculous at best. It's like a CIO saying, "I can't prevent a hacker who is determined to hack my systems, so I am not going to have any security policies or firewalls in place", except that this pro-gun (especially automatic weapons) policy is far more dangerous. Like the President said, it's clear that automatic weapons don't belong in the hands of the man on the street. Laws can be tightened around that. Further, thousands of rounds of ammunition don't belong to the common man either. Laws can be tightened around detecting and preventing situations such as in this case, where the shooter was able to procure lots of ammunition. It's not clear why both sides of the Congress refuse to see this simple common-sense approach to reducing gun violence in this country.
ROFL, I can hear the Righties now...."Run dem liberals are a comin fo our guns!"
N.R.A. believes you need an AK-47 to shoot a squirrel.
There's no way to stop crazy people and that much is true. However, we can and should keep assault weapons from being so easily accessible. There's just no need for assault weapons to be made available to the public. At least that would stop non-sophisticated crazy people from being able to walk into any ole gun shop and buy one. The least we can do is make it hard to obtain and expensive to maintain. You really can't hunt bear with an AK-47.
Where do you draw the line, 2nd Amendment does not say what kind of gun, how about race cars and race motor cycles belong on the race track yet the roads are dangerously flooded with them. The issue here is not the type of gun. The bad guys don't buy guns from the store so gun laws will do nothing but stop good people from buying them and protecting themselves. The problem I see is most police in the US are understaffed and have no money and the courts are do lack on the punishments. You will never disarm the american public, its impossible.
Hear, hear. By all means, keep your hand guns, rifles and shot guns for protection/hunting. But assault weapons just have no place among the general public. I know some people may enjoy firing them. Well, you'll still be able to do that with a rental at firing ranges.
I think BHO has been a great president. I voted for him in 08 and intend to do so again. But, any president or legislator who attempts to restrict gun ownership in any way shape or form should be immediately impeached and removed from office. End of the story.
As a enthusiastic supporter of the NRA and the 2nd amendment I do believe keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the insane should be a top priority. But If AK47 rifles were the problem there would be massacres every day. Millions and millions of rifle owners didn't kill anybody yesterday.
Well – finally a President that dares to stand up to the mafia NRA. I love it dude! – don't back down now – keep it up. I don't think you even realize how much most of the country agrees with you on that one. Just like the health care issue -if people that are repressed don't seem to care , it is because they have 'never known any different' – why rebel against something that you never dreamed possible. Mr President – you have a finger on the pulse of the people of the USA and don't let anybody tell you any different.
This is the United States, they should use M16s. Using a Russian AK-47 is un-patrotic, damn un-patrotic mass murderers....