(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.
Guns are like Greed to some people.They have NO limits to when it is enough.Some believe they should be able to outfit a small army with their private collection.They believe if any country on the planet makes it that they should be allowed to own it.They don't just want a gun for protection,or hunting.They want a gun that blows a person apart at 600 plus yards away.They want to watch things blow up with one shot.It only takes so many calibers to kill someone in your house meaning you or your family harm.They don't care if that one shot kills that person and your neighbor three houses down.
Come Nov-7 and the chicken coming home to roost!! it seems this love thing is not working!
Ummm. He didnt use an AK47 in Colorado. It was an AR15. A semi automatic rifle, not much different from a Ruger 10-22.
Please people. Get the facts straight.
If Obama believes in what he's saying then he should direct Eric Holder to cooperate with legislator's requests for information about Fast and Furious.
President Obama is right!
Well in that case all we need is only Bow and arrow, and not AK47's.
"no greater mission as a country than keeping our young people safe,"
I respectfully disagree Mr. President. I feel that our greatest mission is keeping future generations free, informed, and conscientious.
Exactly! No citizen should have military weapons!
So was the AK47 used in this sick massacre a fully automatic or was it a cheap knockoff semi auto? Does CNN or any other news media know the difference?
Republican gun control platform is a joke. They think we're in the wild west...
Sick that people want AK-47's. Sick that they can get them. Sick that the issue is a political game. We are like children of divorced parents who try to "out nice" each other to gains children's favor. Politician will do / say what ever for votes. The America I once knew is dead. We are Toast.
I thought the Aurora mass murder was a law abiding gun owner so much for that argument. He would have or could have used bombs that is a completely different argument that is not the fact. The fact is that he owned legal weapon and murdered 12 innocents, nobody asks how many of the victims owned guns and how it helped them. It is faulty thinking that guns are defensive and protect you against guns, maybe 1 in 10 chances, a bullet/bomb proof jackets will have far better success. Guns are nearly useless in a civil society they are more problems than any help.
I'm sure he doesn't know what an AK-47 is or how to fire it.
The Aurora shooter didn't use an AK-47. Perhaps someone should tell Obama.
"AK-47s are for nobody." –Mitt Romney
It's good to start a sincere conversation.
No one is trying to abolish the Second Amendment or take away your guns.
But weapons of mass killings shouldn't be allowed, cop-killer bullets shouldn't be allowed... as simple as that.
This d-bag is going to "evolve" himself right out of a job....
Asking a gun owner's view on gun violence is the same as asking a child about ice cream. Hopeless.
"Romney: A change in legislation won't stop those who truly want to do harm." Well, it would do much less harm if guns weren't lying around everywhere.
I think it's great that Obama's not trying to use the Aurora shootings in favor of his campaign. Likewise with mit Romney. When If first heard about the shootings, I was sure one of the parties would try and use it for a political advantage.
I bet the NRA-bought politicians would be singing a different tune if they and their families had to live in areas where gun violence is common.
Common sense. You're a good president Obama.
After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.
William S. Burroughs
After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as heck wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.
William S. Burroughs
(sorry Mr. Burroughs, CNN won't let me post this quote unless I changed that horribly offensive word to 'heck')
Not on the streets of our cities... unless it happens to be the people protecting him that have them, then they do belong on the streets of our cities.
When has an AK-47 been used in a gun related crime in the US?! Another distraction by the president of the REAL PROBLEM.... You can not stop crazy/evil. It has always existed..... no law, no sign, and no policy will stop someone from committing mass murder!
People will use BOMBS, poisonous gas, or any other MASS destruction/effect items they can MAKE or get their hands on..
By making laws you only effect the people who choose to follow the law...... those who are willing to commit a crime already don't care about the law....