Obama's message was comprehensive, but he ultimately did not promise anything specific. He spoke of community policing strategies and mental health centers, or programs that steer people away into safe activities instead of gang violence, of ensuring that parents and teachers step in to fill a hole in a child's heart "that government alone cannot fill."
Romney, in an interview Thursday with CNN, said new laws won't help. He cited the case of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and put to death for the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people. McVeigh used fertilizer in constructing his bomb.
"I think that the effort to continue to look for some law to somehow make violence go away is missing the point," Romney said. "The real point has to relate to individuals that are deranged and distressed, and to find them and help them and to keep them from carrying out terrible acts."
The ban on assault weapons that became law in 1994, during President Bill Clinton's first term, contributed to the Democrats' loss of Congress that year. It expired during George W. Bush's presidency in 2004.
The ban would have prevented the Colorado shooting suspect, James Holmes, from legally buying one of the four firearms police found on him and in his car, an assault rifle. It also would have prevented him from buying new high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Vizzard, the gun control scholar, said there are legislative ways to reduce gun violence, particularly over a longer term of 20 to 30 years. But with an estimated 300 million guns in the United States, he said, Obama is right that "the things that have the most impact are cultural" and that shape the behavior of young people.
Obama once got into his own firestorm during the 2008 presidential race by saying some bitter small-town residents cling to guns and religion for solace. This time, Vizzard said, the president will not give any material to critics who believe he is out to strip their gun rights.
"He's a cagey guy," Vizzard said. "He's just not going to do it."
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