Update: President Obama visibly wiped away tears as he gave a statement on the school shooting at the Connecticut school. He pledged to take “meaningful action regardless of our politics” in response. He did not specify whether that meant an attempt to renew the federal ban on assault weapons, which was passed by Congress signed into law by President Clinton in 1994 and expired ten years later.
Update 2:Obama talked about the “beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old” who “had their entire lives ahead of them,” and said,
“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
His spokesman, Jay Carney, said earlier today that he wouldn’t be talking about gun control. “Today is not the day to … engage in the usual Washington policy debates,” Carney said. “I think that day will come, but today’s not that day, especially as we are awaiting more information about the situation.”
(Meanwhile, David Frum is confronting a lot of blowback from the U.S. Right for suggesting that today is exactly the time to talk about gun policy.)
Below is what Obama said about gun control in his second debate with Mitt Romney:
QUESTION: President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?
OBAMA: We’re a nation that believes in the Second Amendment, and I believe in the Second Amendment. We’ve got a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people who want to make sure they can protect themselves.
But there have been too many instances during the course of my presidency, where I’ve had to comfort families who have lost somebody. Most recently out in Aurora. You know, just a couple of weeks ago, actually, probably about a month, I saw a mother, who I had met at the bedside of her son, who had been shot in that theater.
And her son had been shot through the head. And we spent some time, and we said a prayer and, remarkably, about two months later, this young man and his mom showed up, and he looked unbelievable, good as new.
But there were a lot of families who didn’t have that good fortune and whose sons or daughters or husbands didn’t survive.
So my belief is that, (A), we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement.
But I also share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets. And so what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced. But part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence. Because frankly, in my home town of Chicago, there’s an awful lot of violence and they’re not using AK-47s. They’re using cheap hand guns.
And so what can we do to intervene, to make sure that young people have opportunity; that our schools are working; that if there’s violence on the streets, that working with faith groups and law enforcement, we can catch it before it gets out of control.
And so what I want is a — is a comprehensive strategy. Part of it is seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But part of it is also going deeper and seeing if we can get into these communities and making sure we catch violent impulses before they occur.
CROWLEY: Governor Romney, the question is about assault weapons, AK-47s.
ROMNEY: Yeah, I’m not in favor of new pieces of legislation on — on guns and taking guns away or making certain guns illegal. We, of course, don’t want to have automatic weapons, and that’s already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons. What I believe is we have to do, as the president mentioned towards the end of his remarks there, which is to make enormous efforts to enforce the gun laws that we have, and to change the culture of violence that we have.
And you ask how — how are we going to do that? And there are a number of things. He mentioned good schools. I totally agree. We were able to drive our schools to be number one in the nation in my state. And I believe if we do a better job in education, we’ll — we’ll give people the — the hope and opportunity they deserve and perhaps less violence from that. But let me mention another thing. And that is parents. We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids. Wherever possible the — the benefit of having two parents in the home, and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea.
Because if there’s a two parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically. So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity, and bring them in the American system. The — the greatest failure we’ve had with regards to — to gun violence in some respects is what — what is known as Fast and Furious. Which was a program under this administration, and how it worked exactly I think we don’t know precisely, where thousands of automatic, and AK-47 type weapons were — were given to people that ultimately gave them to — to drug lords.
They used those weapons against — against their own citizens and killed Americans with them. And this was a — this was a program of the government. For what purpose it was put in place, I can’t imagine. But it’s one of the great tragedies related to violence in our society which has occurred during this administration. Which I think the American people would like to understand fully, it’s been investigated to a degree, but — but the administration has carried out executive privilege to prevent all of the information from coming out.
I’d like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence, thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords. OBAMA: Candy?
CROWLEY: Governor, Governor, if I could, the question was about these assault weapons that once were once banned and are no longer banned.
I know that you signed an assault weapons ban when you were in Massachusetts, obviously, with this question, you no longer do support that. Why is that, given the kind of violence that we see sometimes with these mass killings? Why is it that you have changed your mind?
ROMNEY: Well, Candy, actually, in my state, the pro-gun folks and the anti-gun folks came together and put together a piece of legislation. And it’s referred to as an assault weapon ban, but it had, at the signing of the bill, both the pro-gun and the anti-gun people came together, because it provided opportunities for both that both wanted.
There were hunting opportunities, for instance, that haven’t previously been available and so forth, so it was a mutually agreed- upon piece of legislation. That’s what we need more of, Candy. What we have right now in Washington is a place that’s gridlocked.
CROWLEY: So I could — if you could get people to agree to it, you would be for it?
ROMNEY: We have –
ROMNEY: — we haven’t had the leadership in Washington to work on a bipartisan basis. I was able to do that in my state and bring these two together.
CROWLEY: Quickly, Mr. President.
OBAMA: The — first of all, I think Governor Romney was for an assault weapons ban before he was against it. And he said that the reason he changed his mind was, in part, because he was seeking the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. So that’s on the record.
But I think that one area we agree on is the important of parents and the importance of schools, because I do believe that if our young people have opportunity, then they are less likely to engage in these kinds of violent acts. We’re not going to eliminate everybody who is mentally disturbed and we have got to make sure they don’t get weapons.