In his speech to the National Urban League convention last night in New Orleans, the president took on the issue of the nation allowing assault rifles to be sold to everyday citizens.
“I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms,” Obama said. “But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets of our cities.”
The AR-15, the rifle used by Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, and also the amount of ammunition available to him actually was banned by the federal government until Congress let the ban expire in 2004.
There is still a ban in place in California, Holmes’ home state, against versions of the AR-15—but Holmes legally bought all three of his guns in Arizona, which has no such ban. The previous federal law also would have restricted the ammunition to a magazine holding just 10 rounds, rather than the 100-round drum magazine that Colorado authorities said Holmes used in Aurora.
Political pundits wondered whether the president was going to wade into the gun control debate. They got their answer nearly a week after the shootings. But rather than concluding that guns are part of the problem when we are overwhelmed by the frequency of massacres like the one in Colorado, Americans strangely grow more attached to their guns, polls show. Combined with the power of the NRA, that is enough to scare off any politician seeking to take on gun control.
In his Urban League speech, Obama said it “shouldn’t be controversial” to make the case that a “mentally unbalanced” person shouldn’t be able to get a gun so easily. He called for stepped-up background checks for people who want to purchase guns and said he would also seek a national consensus on combating violence.
But he also added: “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.”
Stepping away from gun control onto safer ground, Obama said it is the job of parents, neighbors and teachers to ensure that young people “do not have that void inside them.”
For his part, GOP challenger Mitt Romney, who supported gun control laws when he ran for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts in the 1990s, said the country did not need more gun-control laws.
Americans “sometimes hope that just changing the law will make all bad things go away,” Mr. Romney said. “It won’t. Changing the heart of the American people may well be what’s essential, to improve the lots of the American people.”