Mitt Romney asserted Wednesday that the United States does not need stricter gun laws, saying they could not have stopped the killing of a dozen people by a gunman at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last week.
“I don’t happen to believe that America needs new gun laws,” Romney said in an interview with NBC News, filmed in London on the first day of the candidate’s weeklong trip to Europe and Israel. “A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening.”
In 2004, when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed a state ban on assault weapons — such as the AR-15 allegedly used by James Holmes in Colorado — shortly before a federal ban on the guns expired.
“These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense,” Romney said at the time. “They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”
Asked Wednesday by interviewer Brian Williams whether he stood by those words today, Romney deflected that question. He acknowledged signing a law banning assault weapons and added: “It was a continuation of prior legislation, and it was backed both by the Second Amendment advocates, like myself, and those that wanted to restrict gun rights because it was a compromise. Both sides got some things improved in the laws as they existed.”
“And I happen to think that with regards to the Aurora, Colo., disaster,” Romney continued, “we’re wise to continue the time of memorial and think of comforting the people affected, and the political implications, legal implications, are something which will be sorted out down the road.”
Romney joined the National Rifle Association in 2006 and has sought the organization’s support by casting himself as a better protector of the Second Amendment than President Obama.
Williams prodded Romney by reminding him of another past statement: “I don’t line up with the NRA,” Romney said during an unsuccessful bid for the US Senate in 1994.
“Well, on every single issue, there are differences between myself and the NRA,” Romney said Wednesday. “On many issues we share a common commitment to the Second Amendment and the right of people to bear arms, but I’m sure from time to time there’ll be issues where they and I might part — I don’t have one for you right now — but their agenda is not entirely identical with my own.”
Obama, in New Orleans Wednesday to address the National Urban League, a civil rights group, also touched on the issue of gun control. His remarks, although brief, were his most extensive on the issue since the shootings in Colorado last week.
While in the past Obama has favored a ban on military-style assault weapons -- and told his audience Wednesday they belong in the hands only of soldiers — he did not directly call for a renewed ban on such weapons. However, he did say the country needs improved background checks for people purchasing guns, and restrictions to keep mentally imbalanced individuals from buying them. He emphasized that steps should be taken against all forms of violence, not just gun violence.
Romney flew to London on Tuesday, after addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, Nev.
In that speech, Romney criticized Obama’s foreign policy record, saying the president “has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due.”
On the eve of his foreign tour, Romney said he wanted to speak his mind in Reno because he “wouldn’t venture into another country to question American foreign policy.”
But later Tuesday night, London’s Daily Telegraph quoted an anonymous Romney adviser as saying: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship [between the United States and Britain] is special. The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” The Telegraph noted that the comment “may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity.”
Early Wednesday, Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg quickly rejected the Anglo-Saxon remark: “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign,” Henneberg said.
Obama adviser David Axelrod called the remark “stunningly offensive” on Twitter, and Vice President Joe Biden ripped the comment as a “disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Governor Romney’s readiness to represent the United States on the world’s stage.”
In the NBC interview, Romney said he is “generally not enthusiastic about adopting the comments of people who are unnamed.”
“I’m not sure who this person is,” Romney said. “But I can tell you that we have a very special relationship between the United States and Great Britain — it goes back to our very beginnings — cultural and historical. But I also believe the president understands that. So I don’t agree with whoever that adviser might be but do agree that we have a very common bond between ourselves and Great Britain.”
Romney is to meet Thursday with British officials, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and former prime minister Tony Blair.
On Friday, Romney will meet with US Olympic athletes before attending the opening of the Olympic Games.
Obama’s comments at the Urban League were primarily focused on measures to help Americans deal with the economic slump, including maintaining homeownership and keeping college affordable.
He said he will sign an executive order Thursday creating an office to improve the education of African-American students.Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.