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Posted Jul 26, 2012, 11:33 am
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama said background checks and measures to limit the ability of the mentally ill to purchase guns "shouldn’t be controversial. They should be common sense."
His complete remarks on the subject at an Urban League meeting in New Orleans, as released by the White House:
Now, I've got to say that I recognize we are in political season. But the Urban League understands that your mission transcends politics. Good jobs, quality schools, affordable health care, affordable housing – these are all the pillars upon which communities are built. And yet, we've been reminded recently that all this matters little if these young people can't walk the streets of their neighborhood safely; if we can't send our kids to school without worrying they might get shot; if they can't go to the movies without fear of violence lurking in the shadows. (Applause.)
Our hearts break for the victims of the massacre in Aurora. (Applause.) We pray for those who were lost and we pray for those who loved them. We pray for those who are recovering with courage and with hope. And we also pray for those who succumb to the less-publicized acts of violence that plague our communities in so many cities across the country every single day. (Applause.) We can't forget about that.
Every day – in fact, every day and a half, the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theater. For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans. For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland. Violence plagues the biggest cities, but it also plagues the smallest towns. It claims the lives of Americans of different ages and different races, and it's tied together by the fact that these young people had dreams and had futures that were cut tragically short.
And 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. And too often, those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere.
But what I said in the wake of Tucson was we were going to stay on this, persistently. So we've been able to take some actions on our own, recognizing that it's not always easy to get things through Congress these days. The background checks conducted on those looking to purchase firearms are now more thorough and more complete. Instead of just throwing more money at the problem of violence, the federal government is now in the trenches with communities and schools and law enforcement and faith-based institutions, with outstanding mayors like Mayor Nutter and Mayor Landrieu – recognizing that we are stronger when we work together.
So in cities like New Orleans, we're partnering with local officials to reduce crime, using best practices. And in places like Boston and Chicago, we've been able to help connect more young people to summer jobs so that they spend less time on the streets. In cities like Detroit and Salinas, we're helping communities set up youth prevention and intervention programs that steer young people away from a life of gang violence, and towards the safety and promise of a classroom.
But even though we've taken these actions, they're not enough. Other steps to reduce violence have been met with opposition in Congress. This has been true for some time – particularly when it touches on the issues of guns. 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.
But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals – (applause) – that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities. 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. (Applause.) These steps shouldn't be controversial. They should be common sense.
So I'm going to continue to work with members of both parties, and with religious groups and with civic organizations, to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction – not just of gun violence, but violence at every level, on every step, looking at everything we can do to reduce violence and keep our children safe -– from improving mental health services for troubled youth – (applause) – to instituting more effective community policing strategies. We should leave no stone unturned, and recognize that we have no greater mission as a country than keeping our young people safe. (Applause.)
And as we do so, as we convene these conversations, let's be clear: Even as we debate government's role, we have to understand that when a child opens fire on another child, there's a hole in that child's heart that government alone can't fill. (Applause.) 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.