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.
Obama said 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," he said. "That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.
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."
But he also added: "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."
While the Aurora shootings stunned the nation, Obama's hometown of Chicago has symbolized the urban death toll with a surge in violence that has also captured widespread attention. Chicago homicides are up nearly 38 percent from last year, dramatized by the death of a 7-year-old girl who was gunned down last month while selling snow cones near her house.
Julie Pace reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in London and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.
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