July 22, 2012 6:40 pm

Obama to maintain existing gun laws

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People gather outside the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colo.©AP

President Barack Obama will not pursue new gun control restrictions following Friday’s mass shooting in Colorado, preferring instead to use existing laws to restrict dangerous people gaining access to firearms, White House officials said on Sunday.

Jay Carney, Mr Obama’s official spokesman, told reporters the president “feels we need to take steps to protect second amendment rights” while ensuring “we’re not allowing weapons into the hands of people who should not have them”.

Mr Obama travelled to the Denver suburb of Aurora on Sunday, where he met with survivors of the cinema shooting that has reopened the debate about America’s relationship with guns.

Mr Obama said the victims of the attacks needed the support of the country – but avoided mentioning gun control.

“I hope over the next several days, next several weeks and next several months we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country.” He went on to say the US was “the greatest country on earth”.

His visit, the day before James Holmes, the chief suspect in Friday’s shootings is due in court in Aurora, came as the Obama campaign suspended negative ads in Colorado – a key election swing state – until the end of the week.

But while ads were taken off the air, Mr Obama has resumed his campaign mode and was en route to the west coast, where he was due to attend a glitzy fundraising dinner in Oakland, with tickets costing $35,800 a person.

His reluctance to pursue new gun restrictions was not unexpected – a majority of Americans favour more rights for gun owners, rather than tighter controls – although supporters of gun control continue to press for reforms.

Carolyn McCarthy, a Democratic representative from New York – and a supporter of tougher gun control measures – said US politicians needed to confront the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying group which enjoys great support in Washington and across the US.

“A lot of politicians know it’s the right thing to try to fight for something to save lives,” she told NBC’s Meet the Press. They don’t have a spine any more. They pander to who’s giving them money.”

The suspect in Friday’s shootings is alleged to have used a 100-round magazine with a semi-automatic rifle. Supporters of gun control want to ban assault rifles and high capacity magazines but Ron Johnson, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, told Fox News Sunday he opposed such a move.

“People will talk about unusually lethal weapons, that could be potentially a discussion you could have,” he said. “But the fact is there are 30-round magazines that are just common. You simply can’t keep these weapons out of the hands of sick, demented individuals who want to do harm. And when you try to do it, you restrict our freedoms.”

The NRA, which opposes restrictions on gun ownership, has declined to comment on the Aurora shooting “until all the facts are known”. But Steve Schmidt, the Republican strategist who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said US politicians were reluctant to oppose the NRA. “People will not take on the NRA,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press. “It’s the most powerful interest group in Washington.”

Louie Gohmert, a Republican congressman from Texas, argued this week that the death toll in last Friday’s attacks would have been lower if some of the patrons in the Aurora cinema had been armed and able to return fire.

But Bill Bratton, the former chief of the New York and Los Angeles police departments, told Meet the Press it was unlikely this would have made a difference. “He was armed to the teeth with all types of bullet-protection materials. The ability of a citizen to try and take that individual down, equipped the way he was, would have been de minimis,” he said.

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