In the six days since the Aurora, Colorado, massacre, gun control advocates have criticized both President Obama and Mitt Romney for attempting to avoid the debate. On Wednesday the two candidates finally elaborated on the issue, and offered divergent opinions. In an interview with Brian Williams, Romney suggested that no new gun legislation is needed, and made a confusing statement about suspect James Holmes obtaining weapons illegally (later his campaign acknowledged that Holmes bought guns legally, and said he was referring to the bombs in Holmes’s apartment). On Wednesday evening while speaking before the National Urban League convention, Obama said he supports greater gun control. It was his most in-depth discussion of the issue as president, yet Obama was vague on what exactly he plans to do.
President Obama said his administration has already made progress (though gun control definitely hasn’t been a priority), saying, “The background checks conducted on those looking to purchase firearms are now more thorough and more complete.” However, he said, that isn’t enough, and he blamed Congress for dragging its feet.
Obama was most specific on two points. After the requisite declaration of support for Second Amendment rights, Obama said:
I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that an AK-47 belongs in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals. That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.
He went on to say that “a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily,” adding that these measures, “shouldn’t be controversial, they should be common sense.”
Like Romney, who said, “Changing the heart of the American people may well be what’s essential,” Obama pointed out that the weapons themselves aren’t the only problem. “We must also understand that when a child opens fire on other children, there’s a hole in his heart that no government can fill,” he said. Obama also noted that while tragedies like the shooting in Aurora briefly draw our attention to the issue, gun violence is an ongoing problem. He explained:
Every day – in fact, every day and a half, the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theater. For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans. For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland.
As he mentioned in the speech, Obama is a longtime supporter of reinstating the ban on assault weapons, but an aide told The Wall Street Journal that there are no plans to push specific measures. Speaking out in support of greater restrictions may help President Obama avoid the wrath of advocates like Mayor Bloomberg, but it doesn’t seem new gun control legislation is any closer to getting passed.