* Obama, Romney gingerly address issue of gun control
* President chides Romney over Republican's past support of
* Romney says he's not in favor of new gun legislation
By Sam Youngman
WASHINGTON Oct 17 Democratic President Barack
Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney engaged
in a rare tussle over gun control on Tuesday, and Obama opened
the door to pushing for a ban on assault weapons if he wins a
During their second election debate, both men largely danced
around a gun-control question, a reflection of how they are wary
of offending voters who support gun rights.
However, Obama did say that he would back an assault-weapons
ban like the one President Bill Clinton signed in 1994. That law
expired in 2004 without being renewed by Congress.
Romney signed such a ban as governor of Massachusetts, but
he has indicated that he would not support banning assault
weapons as president. He did not say why his stance is different
now, but in winning the Republican nomination he courted
conservative voters who generally oppose gun restrictions, and
he was endorsed by the influential National Rifle Association.
The president, once an ardent proponent of the
assault-weapons ban, has done little to push such a proposal
forward during his time in the White House. When Attorney
General Eric Holder mentioned the possibility in early 2009, the
White House backed away from such talk.
But on Tuesday night, Obama appeared to endorse a push for
the ban if he is elected to a second term.
"What I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation
about how do we reduce the violence generally," Obama said
during the debate at Hofstra University. "Part of it is seeing
if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced."
Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the
University of New Hampshire, said it was "tough to take the
president seriously on gun control, given how low a priority
it's been on his domestic agenda, and how low a priority it has
been for his party's agenda on his watch."
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun
Violence, said he was encouraged to hear Obama mention the ban.
"It's not surprising," Gross said. "We're very confident
that he knows in his heart what the right thing to do on this
Romney appeared eager to change the conversation away from
gun control, saying that the United States should "make enormous
efforts to enforce the gun laws that we have and to change the
culture of violence that we have."
"Yeah, I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on guns
and taking guns away or making certain guns illegal," he said.
When the moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley, mentioned that
Romney supported and signed such a ban when he was governor of
Massachusetts, Romney pointed to the bipartisan support the
"It's referred to as an assault weapon ban, but it had at
the signing of the bill, both the pro-gun and the anti-gun
people came together because it provided opportunities for both
that both wanted," Romney said.
Obama used his opponent's answer to continue to try and
portray Romney as a flip-flopper.
"First of all, I think Governor Romney was for an assault
weapons ban before he was against it," Obama said, mocking the
attack Republicans used on Democratic candidate Senator John
Kerry's stance on the Iraq war during the 2004 presidential