Gun control was not a hot topic in the 2012 presidential campaign. (That's nothing new; the last time guns were a regular topic of debate in a presidential campaign was in the mid-1990s.)
As a result, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney spent much time talking about how they might deal with the spate of violent acts being committed with guns in the U.S. (President Obama's speech following the Aurora movie theater shootings drew lots of attention but had no specifics as to what -- if anything -- the government should do to stop future incidents from happening.)
But, in the second presidential debate, President Obama did get a question about guns -- specifically about his pledge during the 2008 Democratic National Convention to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals, and what he had done to make good on that promise.
Obama's answer is worth reading in full to understand how he views the issue in both personal and political terms.
Here's Obama's full answer (and here's the full transcript of the debate):
"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."