Speaking in New Orleans, the president told the National Urban League he would "leave no stone unturned" in the search for ways to reduce violence. The address came as he wrapped up a four-day cross-country trip that included a stop in Aurora, Colo., where are least 12 people were killed and 58 were wounded in a massacre at a movie theater Friday morning.
"I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms," he said. "I think we recognize the traditions of gun ownership 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 AK47s 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 said.
Obama listed locations were previous massacres have been carried out -- Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Tucson -- and told his audience the death toll in Aurora approximates the number of young people killed every day and a half in U.S. violence.
"For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans," he said. "For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland.
"And when there's extraordinary heartbreak and tragedy like the one we saw there's always an outcry immediately after for action," Obama said. "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."
The president said he took executive action following the massacre in Tucson at a campaign event for former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., to make background checks for gun purchases "more thorough and more complete."
The White House had billed the National Urban League Speech as an occasion on which the president would announce a White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans. He told his audience the initiative would promote higher achievement among minority students and help prepare them better for higher education and careers.