President Barack Obama vowed to seek a consensus on reducing gun violence in the wake of a mass shooting in Colorado last week, while his Republican challenger Mitt Romney said the US doesn't need new limits on firearms.
Obama, addressing a conference of the National Urban League in New Orleans yesterday, said the nation must look beyond a single tragedy and find a solution to the everyday violence that "plagues so many cities." He repeated his support for reinstating the federal assault weapons ban to keep them out of the hands of criminals.
"These steps shouldn't be controversial," Obama said. "They should be common sense."
Less than a week ago, a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, left 12 people dead and 58 injured. James Holmes, a 24-year-old graduate student being held in the incident, allegedly carried out the attack with a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a handgun, which authorities said were purchased legally.
Earlier yesterday, Romney said he didn't believe the U.S. needed new gun laws.
"We can sometimes hope that just changing a law will make all bad things go away. It won't," Romney told NBC News in London, where he is beginning a trip that also will take him to Israel and Poland. "Changing the heart of the American people may well be what's essential to improve the lots of the American people."
Gun control has been a volatile issue in US politics. Two months before the 1994 election, Congress passed a 10-year ban on assault weapons and then-President Bill Clinton signed it. Clinton, in his 2004 memoir, attributed the Democrats' midterm loss of control of Congress to the gun issue.
During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to reinstate the ban, and Romney signed an assault weapon ban as Massachusetts governor.
In the NBC interview, Romney said the Massachusetts law was a compromise supported by advocates of gun rights and those who wanted greater restrictions.
"A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law," Romney said of the Colorado shooting. "But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening."
In his speech to the Urban League, Obama told members of the civil-rights group that each day in the US the number of young people who die violently "is about that same" as the number who perished in Aurora.
To reduce the toll of gun violence, Obama said that criminals and fugitives should be banned from gun purchases, and that a "mentally unbalanced" person should not be able "to get his hands" on a gun.
The president said that, while tragedies such as the movie theater attack spur talk of new legislation, "too often the efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying."
Obama said he supports the Second Amendment right to own arms and that hunting and shooting are part of "a cherished national heritage."
Still, he said many gun owners "would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals."