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. IcemanN4

    Do something about it then. I just bought my second AK47, 2 months ago. Come to my house and take them. Oh, you forgot...better presidents than you made it legal for me to bear arms. Oh, and, because of my AKs, YOU and your govt thugs can not do me like the German people during the 40s. I'm a law abiding citizen, never arrested, never in trouble. I'll be keeping my beloved Russian steel, thank you very much, prez.

    July 26, 2012 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  2. Mike

    Unfortunately with the way the world is, the streets could easily become the battlefield. The ruling parties and the rich want to keep everyone under their thumb and sometime violence is the only answer. There are many examples of this around the world.

    July 26, 2012 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  3. Rain Maker

    Gotta love politics. Holmes didn't use an AK-47, but more people know what an AK-47 is versus an AR-15. If Obama really pushes this issue, he could end up losing the election as he doesn't have a strong enough lead over Romney (who actually signed an "assault weapons" ban while governer of MA). Heck, Obama has probably done more for gun owner rights than Romney, now that's ironic.

    July 26, 2012 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  4. nolongerarepublican

    "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.

    Did you say the same thing to your Syrian Freedom Fighter friends that you support and praise, Mr. President?
    I don't think so.

    July 26, 2012 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  5. Eric

    Quit focusing on the type of the weapon. A .308 hunting rifle makes an AK-47 look like a BB gun.

    July 26, 2012 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  6. MATTY13

    "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. " What a dumb statement. The only soldiers that have AK-47's are the enemy.

    July 26, 2012 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  7. Bob B

    Obama just lost my vote, because I know where he's going with this issue. It will start with AK-47's and will go on to all semi automatics of all types. Ak-47's are not allowed in my state now, but he won't stop with just AK's. I am a Dem and between his handling of the economy and other issues, now this he's lost my vote. I don't like Romney, but he can't be much worse than Obama.

    July 26, 2012 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  8. Anonymous

    You are so right Mr. President!

    July 26, 2012 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  9. Chris

    Way to go Mr. President, not even getting the type of rifle used correct. The rifle was an AR15 (civilian semi-automatic version of the common US battle rifle the m4/m16). AK47s are in America, but the rifle used in the shooting (the last I have read) was NOT an AK.

    Glad to see the media doing nothing about incorrect statements yet again. Sarcasm if you didn't get it 😉

    July 26, 2012 07:27 am at 7:27 am |
  10. ScottCA

    Someone forgot to tell Obama that the streets of our cities have become battlefeilds.

    July 26, 2012 07:27 am at 7:27 am |
  11. orlando koesling

    GOOD...finally ,and it will help the war in Mexico and the violence in all South America ,where the weapons sales is a big business,but in this country where there are a lot of freaks out there ,the government must stop the free sales of weapons..and is not a lack of freedom,because too much is not good.GUN CONTROL IN AMERICA.

    July 26, 2012 07:27 am at 7:27 am |
  12. reality check

    Laws that forbid the carrying of arms, disarm only those who are neither inclined, nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants. They serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.
    - Thomas Jefferson, 1764

    July 26, 2012 07:27 am at 7:27 am |
  13. topper

    Personally, this is a community issue and shouldn't be laid on the government. Over the past 40 years family values have eroded, parental responsibilities have deteriorated, and kids are't gettig the right attention and upbringing they should be. Violent movies, TV shows, video games and the internet contributes just as much. And don't be nieve enough to believe it doesn't. And I totally agree as a gun owner, that assualt weapons belong on the battle field, not on our streets. Because the innocent victims are always the ones to pay the price.

    July 26, 2012 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  14. Dooda

    take my ak47 and 12 handguns from my cold dead hands Obama

    July 26, 2012 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  15. mslisac363

    Wow Obama – When did you figure this out, and how many did we give to Mexico in the last four years?

    July 26, 2012 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  16. Matt

    The President is absolutely correct, AK-47's have no business in the hands of criminals or on the streets of America, every gun owner would probably agree. The problem is that outlawing/banning them will not remove, and has never removed them from the hands of criminals. All it does is make law abiding citizens criminals, or ban them from owning something that they would most likely never use for an purpose other than shooting at a range.

    Let us also not misunderstand "assault rifle". An "assault rifle" is capable of semi-automatic (one shot per trigger pull), AND/OR full automatic (multiple shots per trigger pull). What is seen most often in the US is a semi-automatic rifle that looks exactly like an 'assault' rifle rifle, but does not have full automatic capability. The only difference between an ‘assault rifle’ as often noted in the media and a normal ‘hunting rifle’ is appearance and ability to accept a magazine over 5 rounds in capacity. Most assault rifles round for round do not have the power of a ‘normal hunting rifle’.
    If you want to stop people from killing each other, you first need figure out why so many are so eager to kill to solve a problem then put the value of human life back on the pedestal where it belongs.

    Oh… and it wasn’t an AK47 that was used, it was an AR-15.

    July 26, 2012 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  17. Cold War Vet

    AK-47's belong to whoever wants to own them because the 2nd Amendment guarantees all law-abiding citizens of the USA the right to bear arms. Nowhere in the 2nd Amendment does it say we're restricted to a particular type or caliber of gun.

    July 26, 2012 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  18. Paulie

    Really Obama? How many AK47s and other guns did Fast and Furious put out on the streets?

    July 26, 2012 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  19. reality check

    "Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest." – Mahtma Gandhi

    July 26, 2012 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  20. Brent

    But, I use my AK-47 to hunt for rabbits.

    July 26, 2012 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  21. JoeProfet

    Have to agree about the type of weapons that should be legal to obtain and those not. I know of folks that have .50 cal rifles for example and they can't find places to even shoot them because of the weapon's range...so why have it...just because you can? I live in out the country and on the weekend I can often hear a fully automatic weapon firing. I have no problem with that but in light of what happened in CO, I can only imagine if the owner of that weapon decides he is the Joker one day what will happen!

    July 26, 2012 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  22. LEO

    Soldiers that I know carry the all American M-4.....don't they??

    July 26, 2012 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  23. Dan

    I disagree with most things that Obama says but he is right about this.

    July 26, 2012 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  24. steve

    so he said that huh? well, lets start in his beloved southside of chicago and see where that gets him.
    the ghettos in the country are full of weapons but the liberal media refuses to expose this to the public. it's not the political thing to do. well let all the ghettos kill each other off. no one will really care!

    July 26, 2012 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  25. jon

    Obama is right. Our second Amendment rights allow us to bear arms for hunting and protecting ourselves at home. But automatic weapons like the AK-47 or an M-16 belong on the battlefield, not on the streets and so easily purchased at a gun store. People buy these to commit mass murder. If the Colorado shooter had a pistol there would be less casualties. The NRA wants to be able to own them just so they can start a revolution if they want. What is the point if your just going to be surrounded and arrested by the police or army.

    July 26, 2012 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
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