Obama: 'I have not backed off' on assault weapons ban

By Sam Youngman
Posted: 04/16/09 07:26 PM [ET]
Political realities make reinstating the assault weapons ban extraordinarily difficult, President Obama said Thursday, but he stressed he is still in favor of the gun control measure.

Obama, joined by Mexican President Felipe Calderon at a press conference in Mexico City, said he and Calderon discussed the ban "extensively" during their meeting earlier in the day.

Mexican officials have said in recent days that they would like to see the ban reinstated, noting that more than 90 percent of guns recovered in Mexico come from the U.S.

The White House was quick to blunt comments Attorney General Eric Holder made earlier this year supportive of pursuing a reinstatement, but Obama said Thursday that he has not changed his position.

"I have not backed off at all from my belief that the assault weapons ban makes sense," Obama said, adding that he is not "under any illusions that reinstating that ban would be easy."

Instead, the president said his administration is focused on enforcing laws that are already on the books, like targeting guns that are illegally smuggled over the border that are "helping to fuel extraordinary violence" as the drug trade soars.

"That's something we can stop," Obama said.

Calderon acknowledged that the assault weapons ban, opposed by many Republicans and some conservative Democrats, is one of the "thorny topics," and he said it has to be approached with a "great deal of sensitivity."

"We know that it is a politically delicate topic," Calderon said, claiming that his government respects the policies and decisions of Congress.

Obama said he would push the Senate to ratify CIFTA, an interhemispheric small-arms treaty that was signed during the Clinton's administration but stalled in the upper chamber.

Obama said he is "confident" the two countries can make progress on the epidemic of gun and drug violence along the border, but he acknowledged that it is unrealistic to think the problems can be eliminated altogether. Instead, the president said he would like to see drug-related violence reduced to the point it "becomes a localized criminal problem."

"That's the kind of progress I think can be made," Obama said. "We're going to be very focused on this. It's going to be a top priority."

In addition to guns, Obama and Calderon said they discussed immigration and the global economic crisis, and they announced a bilateral "framework" on energy and climate change.