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. Mr. Scott

    Sorry, but weapons should not be in the hands of criminals. Laws are for those who follow the law, when do criminals? By the way, hows that "fast and furious" investigation going for ya? Get all the guns back from you and your cohorts sold to criminals?

    July 26, 2012 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  2. keeping it real in Colorado

    I live here in Colorado, I love guns and going hunting. That's the sort of thing most gun owners here do. Seems to me there should be more classification to the types of firearms that do exist: hunting, home/personal defense, and dreadfully, assult weapons or guns that mimic those. My problem is why do so many AR-15 enthusiasts claim they can hunt with it! It is soley a gun desinged to replicate a weapon of war, and is thought too be cool, tough, a symbol of power. (Not a tool for hunting game, grow up, you know who you are). Personally though, I see that gun is simply designed to make you look like a mercanary. Are we at war with wildlife? Did we declare war on muleys and Elk? People need to give it up and quit trying to relive their old glory days on the battlefield. Show some respect to your forefathers and stick to traditional weapons for hunting and home defense. What's wrong with the good old 12ga. shotty and .357 magnum? If u have more trouble than what these two can dish out than you need to call the army or national gaurd. Seriously my buddies and I would laugh you off the field for looking stupid. Go ahead Obama and ban those ridiculous kinds of guns and leave law abiding hunters and traditional firearms out of it!!! You got my vote.

    July 26, 2012 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  3. phil

    Can't believe I'm saying this but that's dead-on accurate. Guns ARE a part of our heritage (like it or not) and hunting is a great thing that teaches valuable life lessons. But an assault rifle that has a 100 round clip SERVES NO PURPOSE. Rifles and limited (non-automatic) handguns ONLY. There is zero argument that anyone can make for the opposite. The British aren't going to invade anymore folks, time to wake up and get realistic about gun laws in the USA. NO AUTOMATICS OR ASSAULT RIFLES. They are designed for one purpose only: to kill human beings.

    July 26, 2012 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  4. nick

    Slightly biased article... That said though true enough. AK47s don't belong in the hands of criminals. The unmentioned part is they're fine in the hands of competent law abiding citizens. Banning guns will not get you less violence, just less protected victims. Criminals will always find a way to get what they want.
    Bloomberg is another idiot just trying to stir the pot. all the checks there are would not have caught this guy in Colorado. He made his own complex booby trap including home made napalm. Do you honestly think he wouldn't get his guns some other way? "Oh no, I can't legally buy a gun so I guess I can't go out and kill a bunch of people, shucks."
    Bans are not the answer. Deep background checks would go a long way, but how do you keep weapons away from people who just snap out of the blue?

    July 26, 2012 12:05 am at 12:05 am |
  5. RightNYer

    ""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."

    He can start by directing that lesson to the people that look like his hypothetical sons.

    July 26, 2012 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  6. exlonghorn

    So here comes the same old tired gun control idea. Let's see here...

    1) Background checks – ineffective in the case of James Holmes. He 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. This is silly. There's no sense in how this might be beneficial in stopping spree killings.

    Everyone knows that Obama plans to make a full-court press against private gun ownership in his second term, but he knows he needs to be quiet until then to avoid alienating gun-owning swing voters. This is what happens when the President works to lead the people in his own agenda rather than represent them with theirs. Maybe Obama can also learn cause and effect reasoning and come up with some better-reasoned steps to counter spree shootings.

    July 26, 2012 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  7. fred37ify

    this will be the end ! To all gun owners remember when you vote !

    July 26, 2012 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  8. Jesse

    Tradition of hunting and gun ownership... we used to have a tradition of owning members of a minority race... but um

    July 26, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  9. Bob

    America – always fighting the wrong fights over silly moral issues and guns.

    July 26, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  10. Phil Thomas

    I don't like either Romney or Obama's stance on this issue but I agree more with Obamas points than Bidens. This guy Romney would do anything to become president, this much is clear. There are enough idiots here who believed the most ridiculous racist talking points would occur, none have happened. Now they believe that the man wasted four years in office to have another four, please wake up idiots. Stop voting against your own interests because you don't like some ones skin color and policies. Blame the Congress and the fact that they have done nothing, tune into CSPAN and watch them vote on Typos and bicker about non sense

    July 26, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  11. Rob

    IN response, Mitt Romney commented "I am pro-guns, and when I was young my family would vacation with the Smith family and the Wesson family."

    July 26, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  12. Timothy Svec

    Mr. president. I wish you would comment on the number of people injured in this terrible event, that do not have health insurance. Also, the american people should be having a discussion on the availability of services for the mentally ill. After all, it is quit possible that crazy people can do more than just pull the trigger on a gun.

    July 26, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  13. Zoglet

    Its crazy to keep pretendinggunsprotect people. After every massacre that excuse becomes less convinving and those defending it, sound increasingly extreem. Atthevery least, assault weaponslike AKs shuold be restricted to the range at thegun club. Its gettingtiredwatching innocent people getting murdered whilst the NRA lobby rub their greasy palms together calculating how many more sales they can make to a scared public. ITs going to take a long time, but America can become a normal country just put JohnWayne away.

    July 26, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  14. Bob

    Non partisan question: was the purpose of the founding fathers who wrote the bill of rights to write priorities for a sound checks and balance system on the country and government they were forming in reflection of the lack of rights they experienced as British citizens? That is, if the second amendment wasn't written as a check against tyrannical governments, why didn't they include property rights in the 2nd amendment or 3rd? Why was the right to own a gun the second right they thought to put in ink just after free speech?

    July 26, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  15. Brendan

    Well last time I checked AK-47s are illegal to own in this country. The Colorado shooter had an AR-15, a rifle yes but its not fully auto. Don't try and confuse people CNN.

    July 26, 2012 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  16. DefyTheGods

    "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. Here we go!

    July 26, 2012 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  17. Michael Penhall

    Why is he commenting on a rifle that was not used in the shooting? I am not sure what a different background check would do. Are we supposed to ask every perspectives family and friends about their mental status before we deliver a firearm?

    July 26, 2012 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  18. anne

    Takes a big man and 'president' to look at the humane side of someone who feels compelled to do such a horrific thing as this... "Americans" should be proud of their president for this kind of depth of understanding and consideration I think.~

    July 26, 2012 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  19. MikeL

    The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.-Thomas Jefferson

    July 26, 2012 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  20. Milt

    In the days and months following 9-11 the government took numerous actions that curtailed citizens rights. His supporters said these were necessary to protect the country. Now we are under attack again, not from abroad but from within. Is it too much to ask a few citizens to give up their military style weapons in order to protect the country's citizens? I think not.

    July 26, 2012 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  21. J.D.

    Gun ownership should not be infringed upon. Maybe we should focus upon the criteria that we use to deem those worthy of gun ownership.

    July 26, 2012 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  22. Nobama

    AK-47's are in the hands of the enemy. Ar-15's belong in the hands of the US soldiers. I am sure Obama would of known the difference if he had actually served in the military or actually did his homework on firearms before he tried to take them away.

    July 26, 2012 12:16 am at 12:16 am |
  23. Tony

    1) An AK-47 is a RUSSIAN assault rifle.
    2) James Holmes did not use an AK-47, he used an AR-15.
    3) The AR-15 is the semi-automatic version of the M-16, which is fully automatic and what AMERICAN soldiers use.

    This from the COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF of the AMERICAN military.

    July 26, 2012 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  24. Bill Gene

    How convenient that a mass shooting happens during an election year so obama can finally come out and say he's against the 2nd amendment. Little hint obama. Without a class 3 license, one cannot own an ak47 full automatic, it's a semi-automatic. Hint #2, plenty of people use these to hunt, target practice, et.. al... NObama2012!

    July 26, 2012 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  25. nodems

    Let put the politic aside, what can the government do to prevent guns On insane people?
    In fact, why did the FBI and fire arm control miss the early warning signs of Colorado shooting?

    July 26, 2012 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
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