Obama, Romney Weigh in on Gun Control Post-Shooting

Obama and Romney offer support for background checks, not much more on guns.

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Nearly a week removed from the shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that left a dozen dead and nearly 60 wounded, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney both weighed in on what government can and cannot do to prevent such tragedies in the future.

While many voters perceive the two to be on opposite sides of the issue, their answers were nearly identical. Their only split came when discussing the potential for an assault weapons ban - Obama offered support for one, which expired in 2004, whereas Romney, who signed one into law as governor of Massachusetts, did not.

Obama, delivering a speech Wednesday in New Orleans at the National Urban League Convention, said he's worked to strengthen the background check process, making it "more thorough and complete."

He also reiterated his support for the Second Amendment, while going further to speak out against assault weapons than he has for most of his presidency.

[See political cartoons on gun control.]

"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," he 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."

Obama also said that while prayers should go out to the victims and their families in Aurora, it's also important to remember the number of people gunned down in cities and towns across America everyday that don't receive the same national attention.

"I believe 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 check out a gun seller; that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily," he said. "These steps shouldn't be controversial. They should be common sense."

Romney, in an interview taped in London with NBC's Brian Williams, also offered up support for background checks, but made it clear he doesn't think new measures would prevent a similar slaughter.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

"Background checks are often able to find people who are disturbed or people who committed crimes in the past and I've indicated that those kinds of background checks, consistent with the law, can help prevent crime," Romney said. "But 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."

The former Massachusetts governor had approved a law that extended an assault weapons ban in the Bay State, but when asked by Williams if he still believed the comments he had made at the bill signing, Romney hedged.

"These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense, they are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people," Romney had said at the bill signing.

But to Williams, Romney said, "It was a continuation of prior legislation and it was backed both by the Second Amendment advocates, like myself, and those that wanted to restrict gun rights because it was a compromise."

"I happen to think with the Aurora, Colo., disaster we're wise to continue the time of memorial and think of comforting the people affected and political implications, legal implications are something which will be sorted out down the road," he said.

[Read: Mitt Romney, NRA as uneasy bedfellows.]

But both Obama and Romney also touched on the same sensitive and disconcerting point that ultimately no law can guarantee safety from violence.

"Even as we debate government's role, we have to understand that when a child opens fire on another child, there's a hole in that child's heart that government alone can't fill," Obama said. "It's up to us, as parents and as neighbors and as teachers and as mentors, to make sure our young people don't have that void inside them. It's up to us to spend more time with them, to pay more attention to them, to show them more love so that they learn to love themselves so that they learn to love one another, so that they grow up knowing what it is to walk a mile in somebody else's shoes and to view the world through somebody else's eyes."