Theater Shooting Revives Assault Weapons Debate

Chorus of politicians call for assault weapons ban, limit on gun clip size.

July 20, 2012, 10:13 AM

July 20, 2012 -- 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?"

"We can talk about it on the talk shows, we can wring our hands and say it's terrible. You know, 'I need more guns to protect myself,'" Bloomberg continued. "That strategy doesn't work."

Bloomberg, who has been the mayor of the country's largest city for a decade, has overseen a significant drop in the city's crime rate. He said Friday that the problem of gun violence is "growing and it's not just an inner-city, east coast, west coast, big city phenomenon. Aurora is not a big city."

Under Colorado's gun laws it was legal for James Holmes, the 24-year-old Aurora, Colo., man who law enforcement has named as the suspect in today's shootings, to carry in his car the loaded assault-style rifle, shotgun and pistols without a permit.

The Century 16 Movie Theater where Holmes allegedly opened fire does not allow anyone to carry firearms on the premises even if they have a concealed handgun permits, said Dudley Brown, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which lobbies against gun control laws.

Brown said that while it is legal to have loaded handguns, rifles and shotguns in an apartment or in a vehicle, the alleged Aurora shooter "was in violation of many things" by the time he stepped foot on the theater's property "because of his intent" to kill.

The Brady Campaign, which pushes for strict gun control laws, ranked Colorado's gun laws in the top third of all states, commending Colorado for closing the "gun show loophole" and requiring background checks for every gun purchase. "If it was one of your kids yesterday in Aurora, maybe you'd stand up and say I'm not going to take this anymore," Bloomberg said. "And instead of the two people -- President Obama and Governor Romney -- talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place, OK, tell us how."

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Friday's shooting underscores the need for a ban on assault weapons. One of the guns used in the movie theater massacre, an AR-15, would have fallen under such a ban.

Rendell said Congress' failure to enact a permanent ban was "an act of cowardice" and that lawmakers were too "terrified" of the National Rifle Association campaigning against them to pass the ban.

"There are some things worth losing for in politics, and to be able to prevent carnage like this is worth losing for," Rendell said on MSNBC.

Tragedy could have been limited if someone else in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater had been carrying a gun, Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said today.

"Well it does make me wonder, you know with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying that could've stopped this guy more quickly?" Gohmert said during an interview this morning on the radio program Ernest Istook Live! From The Heritage Foundation.

Gohmert said that in his hometown of Tyler, Texas, a man with a concealed carry permit "no doubt saved a lot of lives" when he took out his weapon and scared off a shooter.

"He was a real hero," Gohmert said.

Addressing what was supposed to be a campaign rally in Ft. Meyers, Florida this morning, Obama put himself in the shoes of the shooting victim's parents.

"My daughters go to the movies," Obama said. "What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day?"

Obama did not make any comments related to gun control laws, but his Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday morning that "the president believes we need to take common sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of Americans while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing laws do not get them."

Romney also altered his planned campaign speech today to say that he was "heartbroken" over the shooting. He also did not mention the issue of gun control during his remarks.

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