Obama calls for a fresh look at gun control


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The Independent Online

Not quite a week after a the massacre of 12 cinema-goers in Colorado, President Barack Obama ventured before a mostly African-American audience in New Orleans that the time had come for a refreshed national conversation about reducing gun violence.

Mr Obama did not identify specific new gun-control legislation, nor did he challenge the Second Amendment right of Americans to bear arms – to have done so this close to the November election would have carried enormous political risk. But he did dare wade far deeper into the issue than he has in the past as president.

"I think we recognise the traditions of gun ownership passed on from generation to generation, that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage," he told members of the National Urban League. "But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers and not in the hands of crooks."

Mr Obama acknowledged that however much blood was spilled as a result of guns, nothing ever seemed to change. "When there's an extraordinarily heartbreaking tragedy like the one we saw [in Denver], there's always an outcry immediately after for action," he said. "There's talk of new reforms... And too often those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere."

At the top of the wish-list of the gun-control lobby would be the reinstatement of the Clinton-era national ban on assault weapons, such as AK-47s, that was allowed by Congress to expire in 2004.

As Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, passed a law banning some assault weapons including the kind allegedly used in the Colorado shooting. But speaking to NBC News on his arrival in London on Wednesday, Mr Romney took a different tack to Mr Obama. "We can sometimes hope that just changing a law will make all bad things go away," he suggested. "It won't."

The political fall-out from the massacre is not just about gun control. Several of the critically wounded will struggle to pay their medical bills because they are among the 50 million uninsured people in America. President Obama's healthcare overhaul aims to roughly half the numbers without any coverage; Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal it.

While hospitals in the US are obliged under law to stabilise patients even if they can't pay, there is no such requirement for longer-term treatment such as physical therapy that many of the Colorado victims will need.

A fund-raising effort to help those without insurance is under way, however. Warner Bros, which made the Batman film, has donated $2m. Three of the five hospitals treating the wounded will limit or forgive bills. Meanwhile, families of some of the victims are raising funds online. Relatives of Caleb Medley, 23, in critical condition and uninsured, said they are seeking to raise $500,000 for hospital costs. They are half way there.