In his broadest remarks on gun control yet in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, President Barack Obama called late Wednesday for tougher background checks designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
"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," the president, who has called for reimposing the Assault Weapons Ban, said in a speech to the National Urban League.
"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."
But Obama also offered a nod to the difficult politics of gun control, portraying himself as a believer in the individual right to bear arms, and acknowledging that calls to action after an incident like the one in Aurora often fade.
"When there is an extraordinarily heartbreaking tragedy like the one we saw, there's always an outcry immediately after for action. And there's talk of new reforms, and there's talk of new legislation," Obama said in his speech. "And too often, those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere."
"And I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms. And 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.
The president also singled out youth violence, and warned that government can only do so much. "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," he said.
(It's unclear how much political capital Obama will risk in an election-year gun-control fight. On the way to Aurora on Sunday, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked whether there would be no renewed push for the assault weapons ban. "I wouldn't argue with your assessment about that," Carney replied. And White House officials have repeatedly emphasized that they are focused on enforcing "existing law.")
On a lighter note, Obama warned American school kids that they have to "hit the books" if they want to compete with their peers in rising economic powers -- and avoid temptations like TV's "Real Housewives."
"You're competing against young people in Beijing and Bangalore. They're not hanging out. They're not getting over. They're not playing video games. They're not watching 'Real Housewives.' I'm just saying: It's a two-way street. You've got to earn success," he said.
"That wasn't in my prepared remarks," he said, to laughter from the crowd. "But I'm just saying."