Mitt Romney says the US does not need new gun laws. Barack Obama has addressed the issue of gun control for the first time since the shootings in Colorado, appealing for “a consensus around violence reduction” and suggesting assault rifles “belong on the battlefield”.

The president’s comments came as the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, said the US did not need new gun laws and argued that “changing the heart of the American people” might be the way to avoid future tragedy instead.

Gun control is a sensitive topic for both candidates, although a study published earlier showed widespread support for some form of tighter gun laws, even among National Rifle Association members.

“I believe the second amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms,” Obama said. “But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets.” In his first speech on the subject since the film premiere shootings in Aurora, Obama did not make specific proposals, focusing instead on the issue of violent crime in the US.

He told the National Urban League Conference in New Orleans: “Every day and a half, the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theatre. I’m going to continue to work with members of both parties and with religious groups and with civic organisations to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction.” Obama’s speech in Louisiana came as Romney said more restrictive gun laws would not have prevented the events in Aurora, where 12 people were killed and 58 injured at the premiere of the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises. Suspect James Holmes appeared in court on Monday and is being held in prison.

Romney told NBC in an interview in London: “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. This person shouldn’t have had any kind of weapons and bombs and other devices, and it was illegal for him to have many of those things. But he had them. And so we can sometimes hope that just changing the law will make all bad things go away. It won’t. Changing the heart of the American people may well be what’s essential.”

All the guns used in the Aurora attack were bought legally. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney banned assault weapons such as the AR-15 used in Aurora.

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