Faced with a clamor in his party for stricter gun control in the wake of the Colorado movie-theater massacre, President Obama said Wednesday night he would "leave no stone unturned" in seeking new measures to reduce violence nationwide, including more restrictive background checks on gun purchases.
"A lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals," Mr. Obama said at the annual National Urban League convention in New Orleans. "They belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities."
The president blamed "politics and lobbying" for defeating gun-control measures when outcries arise after mass shootings in the U.S. And he said the nation's attention should not just be focused on mass shootings, such as the one on Friday in Aurora, Colo., but on the daily shooting deaths of youths from gun violence in major cities.
"Every day, the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theater," Mr. Obama said. "For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago or Atlanta, here in New Orleans. Violence plagues the biggest cities, but it also plagues the smallest towns."
It was Mr. Obama's first comment on gun violence since the shooting in Aurora that killed 12 people and wounded 58. Police said James Holmes, 24, carried out the killings with an assault rifle, a shotgun and two handguns.
Progressives are pushing Mr. Obama, who campaigned four years ago on a platform of stricter gun control, to speak out on the subject and use the tragedy to impose stricter gun regulations. But the White House has been saying since the shooting last week that Mr. Obama has no plans to seek new gun legislation.
The president used the speech to the Urban League to defend his own actions to date on gun control, as much as to call for tougher controls.
"We've been able to take some actions on our own, recognizing that it's not always easy to get things through Congress these days," Mr. Obama said. "The background checks on those looking to purchase firearms are now more thorough and more complete. Instead of just throwing more money at the problem of violence, the federal government is now in the trenches with communities and schools and law enforcement … we're partnering with local officials to reduce crime using best practices."
He added that the administration has been promoting intervention programs to keep young people out of gangs.
But he said those steps have not been effective enough, and blamed "opposition in Congress" for preventing more restrictive gun laws.
"I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms," Mr. Obama said. "But I also believe that the majority of gun owners would agree that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons, that we should check someone's criminal record before they can [purchase a gun], that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily. These steps shouldn't be controversial, they should be common sense. So I'm going to continue to work with members of both parties and with religious groups and with civic organizations to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction. Not just of gun violence, but violence at every level."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.