Renewed gun debate puts Obama, Romney on awkward terrain

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DENVER - When he spoke in Colorado after visiting with victims two days after the mass shooting at Aurora's Century 16 Cinemas, President Barack Obama didn't say anything controversial -- anything at all, really -- about guns.

But on Wednesday in New Orleans, speaking to a mostly African-American audience at the National Urban League convention, Obama called for the country to actually do something about gun violence and seemed to advocate for the renewal of a ban on assault weapons.

Obama went out of his way to say that he believes in the Second Amendment's protection of gun rights and that that hunting and shooting are part of a "cherished national tradition."

"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," Obama said. "That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities."

In London, meanwhile, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney echoed Obama's initial view that stricter gun laws wouldn't have been enough to prevent suspected gunman James Holmes from carrying out his shooting spree.

But, in an interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, Romney appeared to be confused about the facts of Holmes's case -- specifically, that Holmes purchased his four guns, some 6,000 rounds of ammunition and a head-to-toe suit of tactical armor legally.

"This person shouldn't have had any kind of weapons and bombs and other devices, and it was illegal for him to have many of those things already," Romney told Williams. "But he had them. And so we can sometimes hope that just changing the law will make all bad things go away. It won't."

Romney's assertion seemed plain wrong, given that law enforcement authorities and the retailers that sold Holmes the four guns have confirmed that he passed the required background checks to obtain them; further, the 6,000 rounds of ammunition and the body armor were all purchased legally over the internet, without any background checks.
 
Romney's campaign was quick to clarify that Romney was actually referring to the chemicals and incendiary devices that police later found in Holmes' booby-trapped apartment, even though it's still not clear which, if any, of those items were illegal because the FBI has yet to reveal what they were.
 
Guns may be an uncomfortable policy issue for Romney, given that he actually supported the Brady Bill while running for the U.S. Senate in 1994; and, as governor of Massachusetts, he actually signed a statewide ban on assault weapons in 2004.
 
"These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense," Romney said then at the signing ceremony. "They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

 
In 2006, Romney signed up for a lifetime NRA membership and began to shift toward a more pro-gun view.
 
President Obama's record on the issue is also mixed.
 
While candidate Obama called in 2008 for renewing the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, President Obama has shown no intent to follow through.
 
In 2010, The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence actually gave Obama an "F" rating; meanwhile, the NRA continues to bash Obama as an anti-gun president.
 
After the 2011 shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and six others in Tucson, Ariz., Obama pledged to address gun violence, as he's again doing now.
 
"What I said in the wake of Tucson was we were going to stay on this, persistently," Obama told the Urban League Wednesday, apparently with a straight face.
 
"For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, here in New Orleans," he said. "For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland.

Obama said every heartbreaking tragedy creates an outcry for action.

"Too often those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere," he said.

While he called for efforts to keep criminals and fugitives and mentally unbalanced individuals from buying weapons, Obama also said he was undertaking efforts without Congress to create prevention and intervention programs that "steer young people away from a life of gang violence toward the safety and promise of classroom."