Theater Shooting Revives Assault Weapons Debate

PHOTO: Moviegoers were evacuated across the street as Aurora Police strung crime scene tape around the parking lots encircling the movie theater July 20, 2012.
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In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history on Friday, both President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney are staying relatively mute on what is rapidly becoming the elephant in the room: gun laws.

Unlike past presidential campaigns, gun control has fallen far down the list of candidate talking points. But a look into statements the two politicians made in past years shows they are once again on opposite sides of this hot-button issue.

As a candidate in 2008, Obama said he supported a permanent reinstatement of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, although his administration has not taken action to renew the ban.

Romney, on the other hand, has said he does "not believe in new laws restricting gun ownership and gun use."

"I believe we have in place all the laws we need," Romney said during a GOP primary debate in January hosted by Fox News. "We should enforce those laws."

But as Massachusetts governor Romney signed into law the first state ban on assault weapons. That ban outlawed the type of rifle, an AR-15, which was one of the guns used in Friday's Aurora, Colo. shooting. The Colorado gunman also used a shotgun and two pistols to kill 12 movie-goers and injure 59 others.

Neither Romney nor Obama made any comments related to gun control in their statements about the shooting on Friday.

At an appearance last week in Grand Junction, Colo., about 250 miles from the site of today's shooting, Romney said that "people should have the right to bear arms for whatever legal purpose they have in mind, simple answer."

And during a February campaign event, Romney told supporters that he personally owned two shotguns and that if elected he would "protect the Second Amendment."

"We have a right in this country to bear arms and I know that there are people who think that somehow that should change and they keep looking for laws for a way to stop awful things from happening," Romney said. "And there are awful things that happen but there already are laws that are designed to protect people and unfortunately people violate the laws."

"So trying to find more laws to change bad behavior isn't the answer, the answer is to find that bad behavior the people who are inclined to bad behavior," he added.

While President Obama rarely talks about gun laws, Attorney General Eric Holder shed some light on the Obama administration's stance during his confirmation hearing in 2008. Holder said the Obama administration was in favor of closing this gun show loophole, which allows people to purchase weapons at gun shows without background checks.

Holder said the president also supports a ban on "cop-killer bullets," which are designed to penetrate bulletproof vests. The Obama administration has not taken action on either of these issues.

In 2010, the Brady Campaign gave Obama an "F" for his "lack of leadership" on gun control.

Hours after Friday's mass shooting, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg demanded that both Obama and Romney do more than try to console the victims and survivors by explaining to the country how they will prevent this type of gun violence.

"There are so many murders with guns every day, it's just got to stop," Bloomberg told the John Gambling radio show. "And this is a real problem. No matter where you stand on the Second Amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both of them concretely, not just in generalities -- specifically what are they going to do about guns?"

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