(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 oh here we go cue the Republican RAAAAAGE and fearful speculation that Obama is going to take their precious guns.
I don't have a problem with anything he said – except rewarding states for gathering the most information on gun owners. I'm a liberal democrat, but I'm getting very uneasy over how many of the scenarios described in "1984" are becoming reality. Remember the passages describing how there were cameras everywhere and people were watched by the government wherever they went? Check the streets of London. It's a city I truly enjoy. But there is no such thing as privacy or anonymity there. Cameras are everywhere. That's just one example.
Hand guns and rifles aren't a huge suprise. The need for an automatic weapon is not necessary for hunting unless you are looking to have your deer turned into swiss cheese.
This is so very true. Assault weapons are not for ordinary citizens and so citizens should not be allowed to own them. but that's far as it should go. Assault weapons are not used for hunting.
ak-47's may be for soldiers, but they are not for american soldiers.
Abolish the 2nd Amendment and BAN GUNS!!!
well, if only soldiers have these guns (AK-47), it wont be our soldiers
Take away our coal power that can't be blown up, check.
Take away our guns & keep us powerless, check.
LOL – Its a Russian weapon.
Does Kenya's army us AK47's?
There is a reason they are called "assault" weapons. Why do we need 100 round clips or cop killer bullets? Let's hear it from BUBBA now as to why he needs an AR15 or AK to hunt deer.
President Obama is showing LEADERSHIP by stating ".....AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals," I find it ironic that gun sales have increased recently when instead of putting trust in their guns, why aren't Christian people putting their trust in God? (In God We Trust?)
I feel for those in Colorado. But last i read an ak47 had nothing to do about this. In the hands of soldiers? our souldiers carry m4 or m16. The only soldiers that carry Aks are terrorists or what we obtained and sold to the Mexican cartel through our beloved and counrty loving "Holder". If i was to own an Ak sound mind and body citizen why will I be impaired? Be cause of one screw up in society?Bar all weapons and we are at the mercy(which isnt any!!) of those with intent to do us harm. Why must we as citizens always be the lame while others who care not be the butchers?
The President is right, there's a lot of work to do, but I think there's a disagreement on where that work needs to be done. He says, "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,". False dilemma, Mr. President.
Republicans have always stated Obama wants to take away all their guns. Gun sales soared after his election, based chiefly on NRA scare-tactics and bogus claims that he'll trample their 2nd amendment rights.
Well guess what? They were dead wrong. Obama hasn't send lesbian fembots to gather your weapons as predicted.
Good for you Mr. President.
You have more spine than Mitt Romney the jellyfish could even hope to have.
Dear Mr. President,
Please help us. I don't know how to fix this problem, but we are begging you to rescue us from this scourge of random violence. We are afraid to go to school, or to the movies. We are afraid of the guy in the car driving next to us, and the guy in line ahead of us at the convenience store. I know that you are trying to solve a lot of problems, but we won't be able to cure cancer, or find energy sources, or improve the economy if we aren't free to conduct our daily lives in better safety than we have now.
Please, before anything else, find a way to make us safer.
President Obama is correct. No civilian needs a fully automatic assault weapon. Handguns for self-defense are fine, you don't need a a flippin' assault weapon to defend your house.
I agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals or civilians. Alll high-powered, semi-automatic weapons should be banned immediately!
The only problem with that scenario is that the citizens of the United States would be seriously outgunned compared to our military and the military of other countries. Our Second Amendment was written specifically to allow the citizens of this country to protect themselves against tyranny, from any government. We have already drawn the line at citizens not being allowed to own weapons of mass destruction, tanks, heavy armament, and even fully automatic rifles (assault rifles). Those advocating for restricting guns have to realize that they are restricting the rights of law abiding citizens, because we can be assured that criminals will not abide by the law. I agree that we should examine what can be done to help eliminate situations like Colorado, but condemning guns and the people that follow the law is not the answer. The unfortunate thing is if we want to live in a free Republic, we have to accept some risk. As crass as that sounds, it is the truth. We cannot mitigate all risk in our lives without giving up our freedoms. I welcome honest and open discussion to gun laws and how we can avoid another mass shooting, so long as those laws do not infringe upon our rights to own arms, no matter how menacing those arms might be.
Im not a soldier yet, but I want a AK, M-14, M1911, ect.
Granted I want to join the USMC, but still, as a private citizen or civilian I should be able to own those.
Why? 1 Hunting, 2 Home defense, 3 personal defense, 4 Homeland/ state defense.
Good for our president. To say it is OK for people to be able to purchase weapons like M-16s and AK-47s in America is also to say it is OK for things like the tragedy in Aurora to happen in America.
Come on Obama...stand with us...AK 47s are for the military/police...YOU GO OBAMA
If there is a perfect thing Russians ever made it was the AK-47.
The 2nd amendment is to protect the "We the People" from a tyrannical government. Its about checks and balances. When guns are criminalized only criminals will have guns.