President Barack Obama has pledged to work with Democrats, Republicans and community leaders to "arrive at a consensus" on how to reduce gun violence across the United States.
Closing out a multi-day trip that began in Aurora, Colorado, where he met with families and victims of the movie theatre massacre there, Obama yesterday told a mostly African American audience that such tragedies are replayed on a smaller scale in cities throughout the country on a daily basis.
"Every day and a half the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theatre," Obama said in remarks at the National Urban League Conference in New Orleans.
"I’m going to continue to work with members of both parties and with religious groups and with civic organisations to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction."
Discussing or even touching on the issue of gun control in the United States during an election year is risky, and Obama has been careful to avoid making sweeping proposals that could offend gun owners and rally his Republican opponents.
The president made a point of emphasising his support for the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, which covers the right to bear arms.
"We recognise the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation, that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage," Obama said.
"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."
GUN CONTROL A TOUGH SELL
Obama called for tougher background checks on Americans trying to buy a gun as he and Republican challenger Mitt Romney engaged in their most extensive discussions on the gun control issue since last week's shootings in a Colorado theater.
Their pointed comments revived a debate - if briefly - that has faded to the background in national politics and been virtually nonexistent in this year's close presidential race.
The White House overnight (New Zealand time) said Obama is not pushing for new gun control legislation, even though he still supports a ban on assault weapons. Spokesman Jay Carney said Obama intends to focus on other ways to combat violence and will work to enhance existing gun laws.
The White House has faced fresh questions since the shootings about whether Obama, a strong supporter of gun control while a senator from Illinois, would make an election-year push for stricter measures.
But Carney's comments were the latest sign that Obama won't do it, bowing to congressional opposition to additional gun restrictions.
Romney said in a television interview that changing the nation's laws would not prevent gun-related tragedies. He mistakenly said many weapons used by the shooting suspect were obtained illegally. Authorities say the firearms used to kill 12 people and injure dozens were purchased legally and that the suspect's apartment was booby-trapped with explosives.
''The illegality the governor is referencing is the ordnances, the devices that were in the home,'' campaign spokesman Danny Diaz. ''He was not referencing the weapons carried to the theater.''
Gun control is a hotly partisan issue in the US The powerful National Rifle Association, which fights gun control and has huge sway in Congress, has successfully made the issue nearly off limits among most legislators who fear the group's opposition at re-election time. The Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence challenged both Obama and Romney yesterday to lead a search for solutions to gun violence. The group says 32 people are killed by guns in the US each day.
The group's president, Dan Gross, said it's shameful for leaders to play politics with the issue when lives could be saved.
Obama's speech acknowledged a national pattern of failing to follow through on calls for tougher gun restrictions after violent crimes.
''Too often, those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere,'' he said.
Obama pledged to work with lawmakers of both parties to stop violence, including the steady drip of urban crime that has cost many young lives. That's an important issue to the black community, whose turnout in 2008 helped him win the White House.
The president called for stricter background checks for people who want to purchase guns and restrictions to keep mentally unbalanced individuals from buying weapons.
Still, Obama was unlikely to make a strong push for new gun control legislation while mired in a deadlocked campaign centered squarely on the economy.
Romney, pressed on the gun control issue in an NBC news interview during a visit to London, said changing laws won't ''make all bad things go away''. He was meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron and attending the opening of the Olympic Games before heading to Israel and Poland.
Romney was asked about his tenure as Massachusetts governor, when he signed a bill that banned some assault-style weapons like the type the Colorado shooter is alleged to have used. At the time, Romney described such guns as ''instruments of destruction, with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people''.
Asked if he stood by those comments, Romney mentioned the Massachusetts ban but said he didn't think current national laws needed to change.
''I don't happen to believe that America needs new gun laws. A lot of what this ... young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening,'' he said.