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.

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  • 1981: The Attempted Assassination Of President Ronald Reagan

    on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.

  • 1993: The Brady Handgun Violence Act

    The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

  • 1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

    The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)

  • 2004: Law Banning Magazines Holding More Than Ten Rounds Of Ammunition Expires

    In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).

  • 2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Rules In Favor Of Dick Heller

    In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

  • 2008: The NICS Improvement Amendments Act

    Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.

  • 2008: Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Handgun Ban As Unconstitutional

    In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case <em>District of Columbia v. Heller</em>.

  • Gabrielle Giffords And Trayvon Martin Shootings

    Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">proved fruitless</a>, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/trayvon-martin" target="_hplink">gunned down</a> by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">quick to concede</a> that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">here</a>:

  • Colorado Movie Theater Shooting

    In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/aurora-shooting-movie-theater-batman_n_1688547.html" target="_hplink">opened fire on theatergoers</a> attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/batman-shooting_n_1690547.html" target="_hplink">hesitant to say</a> that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.

  • Sikh Temple Shooting

    On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sikhs gathered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding four more before turning the gun on himself.