In one of his most direct statements on gun control since his election, President Barack Obama Wednesday called for a "common sense" approach to assault rifle sales in light of Friday's mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., saying no "mentally unbalanced individual" should be able to get their hands on such weapons.
"I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms," Obama told the National Urban League convention in New Orleans. "I think we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation. That hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage."
Obama continued: "But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong 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. I believe the majority of gun owners would agree we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons, and we should check someone's criminal record before they can check out a gun seller."
The president called for new restrictions barring mentally unstable people from purchasing weapons.
"These steps shouldn't be controversial," Obama said. "They should be common sense."
Police investigating the Aurora shooting said they believe James Holmes legally purchased four guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition used to kill 12 people, including an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round magazine.
Obama pledged to work with lawmakers from both parties to reduce violence "at every level." He noted that government can't repair everything that plays into a killer's actions.
"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," Obama said.
Obama has avoided the gun debate in recent years, despite his past gun control advocacy. HuffPost's Sam Stein reported on the transformation earlier this week:
As Obama embarked on his presidential campaign in 2008, the pressures of a Democratic primary required him to appeal to voters who valued stronger gun control laws. That became complicated following his "cling to guns" statement at a private fundraiser in Pennsylvania and as he distanced himself from 1996 questionnaire in which he called for banning "the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns" (his campaign would claim an aide erroneously answered the question).
But as that primary turned into a general election, he didn't drop the issue. In fact, he gave it a memorable mention at his highest-profile address.
"The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals," Obama declared at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
For all the talk of unassailable logic of certain gun policies, however, the Obama presidency has seen virtually no corresponding legislative action. Part of that was because of a jam-packed legislative plate.