(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.
AK-47 is not a great weapon. I'm not sure why its popular, other than the fact it can still shoot when loaded with sand. Its sort of durable but not a great weapon. Other militaries use it but the US uses the M-16. I agree with Obama though...and I'm a veteran
:The 2nd amenment means I can has AK47. I aint mindin if retods and hip gangstas wannabees can own them too. As long as no wet backs, librals, or gays can own them.
Next he's going to be telling us that limiting the freedom of speech is "common sense" and "it's the right thing to do".
Obama isn't going to push the gun issue until after the election. Like he told the Chinese, "I be have more flexibility after I get reelected". One of the many reasons I'm not voting for him. Why are more candidates are not in the media? Censored by the government much? Smaller government = less dependent people on my tax dollars.
I'm voting Ron Paul – No he is not taking votes away from Mitt, Mitt is taking vote from Ron.
this isn't a "gun control" issue, this is a common sense issue. hell, i'm very strongly pro-second amendment, by why on earth someone would possibly need an ak-47 for self-defense or sport is entirely beyond me. this isn't mogadishu.
Whose soldiers? As Gunnery Sgt. Highway says in "Heartbreak Ridge," "This is the AK-47, the preferred weapon of the enemy."
So here comes the same old tired gun control idea. Let's see here...
1) Background checks – ineffective in the case of James Holmes. We would pass ANY reasonable background check with flying colors.
2) Ban AK-47's. Ineffective. James Holmes didn't use one. He used an AR-15...a semi-automatic version of the select-fire automatic M4/M16. Also, Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho used a small .22 pistol along with a .40 pistol to kill 32 people. No big bad rifle required. In fact, this is the only time an AR-15 has been used in a mass shooting.
3) Reward states that provide the best data about gun owners. Silly. There's no sense in how this might be beneficial in stopping spree killings.
Maybe Obama can learn cause and effect reasoning.
"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"
Considering his administration sold AK-47's to criminals under the Fast and Furious his words don't match his actions....
Bombs are illegal and that didn't stop him. And I think George Washington would see 'military firearms' as a way to keep our government in check.
""That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.""
and responsible owners don't take them "to the streets", they take them to shooting ranges or out in the woods with targets.
Dear Mr. President,
If you want gun control now, perhaps you should have campaigned more strongly about it before you were elected. You may also have wanted to step in during your babysitting of 'operation fast & furious' and many more 'unknown' ops that have placed thousands of automatic weapons on the streets. Perhaps you would like to admit that gun control will NEVER work (in a voluntary manner) in the US due to there being 250,000,000+ weapons already in circulation. The age old adage of 'guns dont kill people.people kill people' is TRUE in that gun violence represents itself most vividly, not in 'PR' massacres like what society experienced in Colorado, but in inner city drug or turf wars between primarily black and hispanic gang members. Criminals will have access to weapons regardless of any legislation as evidenced by nations that have strict laws and far fewer weapons, yet still have events such as took place in Aurora. Simply put, your stance on gun control at this time, choosing to politicize the murder of your own citizenry, becomes another layer in the blanket of shame that your presidency has thus far woven, and furthers the rumor that your induction was one of maneuver and conspiracy. Sincerely, a concerned neighbor of the North.
Barack – No gun belongs in the hands of criminals. We already have those laws on the books.
Uh. None of our soldiers carrie AK47's. Do some homework Mr. President.
Whose soldiers? As Gunnery Sgt. Highway says in 'Heartbreak Ridge,' "This is the AK-47, the preferred weapon of the enemy."
I'm surprised he waived executive privilege long enough to make a few points about the gun trade.
you cannot blame the goverment or the parents is the gun store should report tothe police whe ayoung person buys those kind of gun
The 2nd amendment has nothing to do with hunting or gun ownership tradition.
It is a final check on gov't to ensure they don't become stronger than the citizens they represent. So long as the populace is well armed on par with similar weapons that would be used against us, we'll never have an overly oppressive gov't like our ancestors faced.
The mere presence of military-style small arms keeps the beast in check. We'll never have to use them so long as we have them.
What a profile in courage this Obama is! On gun control no specifics about what he thinks we should do. No calls for new legislation. A broken promise to re-instate the Assault Weapons ban.
And why? You know it and so do I – Obama is afraid of losing votes and losing his reelection by following through on his own convictions. He and the Democrat Party nationally put holding office above saving the lives of people that they claim are imperiled by lax gun laws.
They are moral cowards.
But that's nothing new for Democrats. They put having majorities in the House and the Senate in the 1930s, 1940s and1950s above the civil rights of black Americans. Democrats like Roosevelt, Stevenson and Kennedy coddled segregationists in their party in return for votes, while blacks suffered under Jim Crow. That's why Hugo Black got on the SCOTUS and how Fulbright, Gore, Stennis, Russell and other racist Democrats held so much power. Only Truman and Humphrey had any balls.
How can anybody vote for such craven hypocrites?
Why would people advocate for the government being able to take any fundamental right away? Perhaps they are right in their hesitation to advocate for stricter control. The fact of the matter is that the US is saturated with firearms, and we are by no means a small country. Sick people will always be able to do what they're going to do, whether it be by gun or by blade. I believe that this means that the common man should be properly and fairly armed.
But it goes beyond even that. MOST people who have an assault rifle do it take out to the range, not shooting people. It's a hobby people. Some people love making pottery, others like reading books, dude out in the country just like shooting their guns.
Mayor Bloomberg is wrong more strict gun control laws means a bloodbath etc.
I would say that he just made the NRA flip out, but the last 4 years have been one long flip-out from them.
Mr. Obama – Socialism is for Europe.
Oooh Ooooo...he done done it now.
Why Obama gonna get NRA and Ted Nugent more incesensed. God protect this man...I am truly afraid for what would happen to him because he has taken a side here. Even thought it is the right side....
Obama talks the talk, but now it is time for him to step up and walk the walk
It was an AR15 not an AK-47