(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.
Uh, BO's ignorance is showing. AK-47s are already illegal for individuals to own in the US (they're automatic weapons, "machine guns," that's what the "A" stands for).
OTOH, how many of the Arab Spring uprisings, which we supported, would have succeeded if the citizens didn't have access to AK-47?
What courage, for Obama to take a stance on the proliferation of guns during the presidential campaign. And I agree: AK47s should be off the streets. If such guns existed when the 2nd Amendment was written, I doubt they'd be allowed for the general public. I think the right to bear heavy artillery doesn't touch everyone's right to LIVE. I heard that gun sales in Colorado have skyrocketed since the tragedy. Rather than feeling reassured, I think it sounds like a pretty scary place to be, with every other person armed.
Seems funny to me that his secret service men all carry AK 47's. Who is he at war with.
If the most innocent comments require moderation why don’t we take the whole discussion out on this page?
Ok. Lets say we ban all hand guns and rifles. The law abiding citizens of the US cannot own nor buy a weapon.
Will the criminals hand in their guns as well? Whats going to stop them coming in from Mexico? Can we stop the pot and cocaine coming over the border?
Semi auto AK-s and AR-s are mechanically NO DIFFEREnt then any other semi automatic firearm. Since bBarry knows nada about the military, "The Soldiers" get fully automatic rifles. What Obama is doing is like saying Digital Cameras should be just for journalists....Don't let a good crisis go to waste....
ak's are already illegal to posses without an FFL which requires huge background checks and inspections by the ATF.
What happened to security at the theater? Most emergency exits I see at public places have alarms when the door is opened? Where was the security on that emergency exit?
Trying to ban these weapons now is kind of like trying to close the barn door after the horse got out. Perhaps the better use of our resources would be to stop criminalizing personal behaviors, like drugs, and instead hold people responsible for their actions. Imagine the money that could be diverted to identifying and helping the mentally ill instead of locking people up for "moral" violations.
The liberal socialists and conservative fascists and rejoicing in this tragedy in seeing this as another way to trample on americans rights.
It's only common sense to have laws. People do not fear God anymore. So we must do what we can as people to see that questionable people are not given WMD: personal level WMD. The crime in Aurora occurred with weapons in the hand of an animal killing many people. They are, thus, Weapons of mass people destruction.
Sad. Ignorance runs deep in this president.
Now, let the buying of firearms begin. This will help the gun shops more than anything. AK 47s' will fly off the counters.
All the gun-talking by President Obama ain't gonna help America-the panacea is for America to retrace her roots from what the Pilgrim Fathers built her on:Godly fear!
How funny everyone talks gun control about a weapon that was not used in this event. Got to love he left.
I can not believe there are people who actually believe that banning assault rifle and hi capacity magazine will somehow mitigate mass shootings. "but it will make it more difficult to commit if they have to reload", they say. Really? Do you honestly think there is some potential mass murder that is goign to be sitting on his couch plotting to do a mass shooting but then saying to himself..."hmmm, I would have to reload...too much hassle"....
What gun owners are you asking? Nobody I know agrees with that belief. I've been saving up for my WASR-10 for months. I can't wait.
not just soldiers obama, they belong in the hands of civilian activists and rebels you forgot?
This is just campaign rhetoric unless and until the President puts forth a proposed bill to ban assault weapons -- and he will NEVER do that - which makes this talk very cheap and meaningless --as usual for Oblah blah
Yeah. Only the government should have AK's. Not the citizens. Obama sure is going to inherit a mess if he's re-elected. LOL what a fooking maroon.
Hhm, I prefer AK-47s not be in anyone's hands. Since it is originally a Soviet weapon and now widely dispersed to dictators, mercenaries, and terrorists, having it in a soldier's hands has a high potential for having it pointed at Americans. Poor choice of words...
The guy in Colorado DIDN'T use an AK-47.
Nothing wrong with the AK. It's fine, time-proven design.
Instead, he should focus on the fact that the shooter already has a FAN PAGE on facebook.
Dear BO, NO weapon belongs in the hands of a criminal....but any law abiding citizen should be able to own a semi-automatic weapon weather it be a 9mm pistoi or an AK-47. DONT CONFUSE full auto with semi-auto.
Didn't the AK jam? Do the suffering victims care what gun struck them? If all guns were banned, every one of them then what? Doesn't anyone think this deranged crazy would have taken his apartment bombs mobile?
No, AK47's are for terrorists, M16's are for real solders and militia!