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. Nick

    I live in Canada and we are not allowed to own a AK-47 for any reason and full auto is also a no no. We can own assault weapons that are semi auto only and even then they are restricted and can only be used at the range

    July 25, 2012 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  2. Erik

    There is a lot of work left to do, that we agree on, but the disagreement is 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..." That's a false dilemma and the makings of a straw man. He says, "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..." That's a poor choice of words.

    July 25, 2012 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  3. mogran

    While I sympathize with the families involved in the Colorado event I will not support any attempt to control gun use in this country. The problem is not guns, the problem is people. I don't think the vast majority of Americans should be penalized due to a minority of folks who think controlling gun use will solve the murder problem. It is not now nor will it ever be the answer. If guns are not available people will find a way to commit murder if they are determined to do so.

    July 25, 2012 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  4. Steven R.

    I agree that guns such as AK-47s, which have no use other than to kill, should be in warzones and not the USA. I mean I understand that semi-auto guns are just as lethal but it makes no sense whatsoever to me to let people buy a gun that you can easily 'spray at a group' with little chance of missing. What else are people buying them for? Hunting large flocks of geese?

    July 25, 2012 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  5. x3zy

    This man had enough explosives in his apartment to destroy the entire complex...but we should only focus on banning firearms. That will stop mass murder. It is like saying that if you ban firearms and explosives in Afgahnastan, there will be peace. I am sorry but the firearms element is the focus of only a small element of the problem. Doesn't matter if it as assault rifle in this case, a deer rifle used in the University of Texas tower shootings, handguns in Virginia Tech or nitrate fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City bombing. It is the society that needs to change. The weapons are not the element of the problem. You can try to take these weapons out of the equation but the problem is still there. These people want to kill a lot of people in order to get some sort of attention and get their message cross whatever it may be and of course the media gives it to them. I think that is the biggest problem with these sort of spree killings. I think the way the media dramatizes these tragedies is more responsible for these killings then any weapon. They give these killers exactly what they want and they encourage more crazies to commit copy-cat killings so they can get their message across.

    July 25, 2012 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  6. Linda R

    No one should be able to just go online and obtain these types of weapons! Horrifying. If I hear again about the right to bear arms I'll scream....they weren't talking about these weapons!

    July 25, 2012 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  7. ibetigetcensored

    WHICH Soliders us AK-47 BARAK? OH, I guess the soliders you were used to seeing in Kenya, Indoneisa or what ever part of the world you ate dog in. OUR TROOPS US a M-16 -A2. Our enemies use the AK-47. OH, Holmes did not us an AK-47 or an M-16-A2, He used and AR-15. OH, and it was a "SEMI AUTO" that dose not make it an assualt weapon. A true Assualt weapon is able to shoot in AUTO MODE.
    MAn if you don't know the difference in militarty weapons, maybe we don't need to let you have charge of our NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

    July 25, 2012 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  8. Bob

    Too bad AK-47's are wielded by terrorists and not soldiers...

    July 25, 2012 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  9. Lionel

    Great job Obama. We do not need AK-47s on our streets. What does Robme have to say, oh yeah he is off watching the Olympics.

    Can't wait for the haters and gun lobbist to comment on this one. Ready set go Howard and Jerry.

    Obama / Biden 2012

    July 25, 2012 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  10. Jerk

    OH I can just hear the gun-loons now making fun of Obama for saying AK-47 instead of M-4, M-16, AR-15, etc.

    And he's right any high-capacity assault weapon like the AR-15 should be banned or extremely expensive/hard to get. Not down the street at Bass Pro Shops.

    July 25, 2012 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  11. Cas

    Going deer hunting with AK-47?

    July 25, 2012 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  12. Sue

    Don't expect mitt to come out and take any kind of stand in favor of gun control of ANY kind. Remember the guy made his first appearance as the 'presumptive' candidate in front of the NRA to assure them he was their boy and would toe their party line in return for their cash and influence.

    July 25, 2012 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  13. David

    AK-47's kill people, period....

    July 25, 2012 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  14. steve505

    Take notes, Eric Holder!

    July 25, 2012 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  15. Tarcil

    He said that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not criminals... What he very noticeably does not mention is that there is another type of person – one who is neither soldier nor criminal. That is, in fact, most people. What about them? Or does he wish for a nation where there is no third option, that if you possess a firearm like that and are not part of the military, then you are by default a criminal. Great political doublespeak. Anyway, the reason he hasn't pushed on the assault weapons ban is because he wants to get reelected.

    July 25, 2012 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  16. Sonny Chapman

    I'm a life long hunter. No one has the UNRESTRICTED right to own an Ak-47. Too many people don't have the mental make up to own such a powerful piese of equipment. We regulate who can drive an 18 wheeler on our highways, we should at least TRY to slow down who can get thes kinds of killing machine. P.S.-Does the 2nd Amendment give me the right to buy an RPG or IED ? Most "Well Trained Militias"(Iraq) bare these arms.

    July 25, 2012 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  17. Curran

    Why doesn't he just come out and say that all firearms only belong in the military; its the logical conclusion of his argument. You can ban all the weapons you want, but someone determined to kill, maim, and destroy, will not be stopped by bans. As for banning firearms, the city of Aurora has a ban on concealed weapons. I just wish one of the patrons had been carrying a concealed weapon in the movie theater; who knows how different the outcome would have been. I do know for myself, for now on, I will be using my conceal weapons permit, and carrying a concealed weapon when I go to the movie theater.

    July 25, 2012 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  18. ronald

    AK47'S sold in the US to Legal Gun owners are semi-automatic just like any AR15,or other magazine fed/tube fed rifle some of which models have been in use for hunting and personal use since before Obama was born. AK 47's are not the full-auto terrorist tools he's making it out to be.

    July 25, 2012 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |
  19. FedUp2

    The irony of this situation is that a bunch of borderline folk that were already paranoid are going out right now to get a conceal-carry permit and new piece. It seems there is major flaw in the privacy laws surrounding mental health issues and the line on the form where it says, "not crazy" or the equivalent. Voluntary information doesn't go far in protecting the public and these folks don't wear labels. Unless there is some history of legal action, you could be as looney as napoleon and that fact will stay between you and your therapist. Who's that protecting? I know personally of a major paranoid\schizophrenic with a death-for her x that had no problem getting her handgun. She just didn't say anything about her years of therapy and heavy medications on the form, and they never questioned it. Now it's up to the voices as to what she might do next, but we can't do anything about it. It's her right! Yeah.

    July 25, 2012 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  20. Joe

    Bravo! Mr. President!!! Assault weapons ARE for soldiers and have absolutely no place in society. They should be banned! Otherwise, we will continually be having major loss of lives and tragedies which is UNAcceptable!. Handguns – ok. Assault weapons – Definitely NOT!!!!!

    July 25, 2012 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  21. John

    Thank you! Finally, something from our government. This isn't an issue that just "popped" up one day. NO ONE should have the ability to buy freaking military grade weapons. NO ONE.

    Hand guns should be legal and limited in fashion per person. Enough is enough.

    July 25, 2012 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  22. i12bphil

    Here's a funny idea: How about instead of blaming inanimate objects for the actions of individuals why don't parents teach their kids right from wrong, how to cope with their emotional issues and take responsibility for their own actions, then perhaps also actually punish people for the crimes they commit?

    Ah, that's probably asking too much...

    July 25, 2012 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  23. Larry L

    Critical to the dabate on gun laws is something the U.S. Supreme Court needs to clarify. Does their ruling on the 2nd Amendment imply individual Americans have a "right" to decide when government is oppressive and use arms to overthrow our Federal Government. The N.R.A. crowd believes this is a right. Based on that logic Tim McVeigh would be a patriot rather than a terrorist. He made the decision our government was too oppressive, he acquired arms, and he attacked a Federal Building. Patriot or terrorist? We need that clarification to stop morons like Rick Perry from openly suggesting a "2nd Amendment solution".

    July 25, 2012 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  24. James

    Ban semi-automatic weapons, allow hunting rifles and hand-guns only, and have strict control of ammo sales. Then, back gun control with very severe punishments for crime committed with guns.

    July 25, 2012 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  25. Tom

    I own several AK47's. They make holes in paper just like any other gun. in fact, the round is less powerful than most hunting rifles. Suddenly I am a criminal? I have not killed a single living creature with my Ak47 or any other gun. I am less of a threat than any hunter. Why am *I* being targeted for owning an AK47? Obama, I voted for you, but you just lost my next vote.

    July 25, 2012 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
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