White House: Obama focused on fighting gun crime with ‘existing law’

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Sunday said President Obama was committed to preventing gun crimes by relying on “existing law,” two days after a mass shooting in Colorado sparked renewed debate about gun control.

Obama arrived in Colorado Sunday afternoon to meet with victims of the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, which left 12 dead and dozens injured.

The shooting has thrust the issue of gun control into the national spotlight with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg calling on both presidential candidates to better enforce gun laws on the books and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) calling for a renewal of the assault weapons ban. 

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In a gaggle aboard Air Force One, en route to Colorado Carney struck a cautious tone, saying the president “believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons," according to a White House transcript. 

“There are a number of steps that have been taken and a number of others that can be taken to accomplish that goal,” said Carney, touting the administration’s efforts to increasing the number and effectiveness of “background checks.”

“The president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law.  And that's his focus right now,” reiterated Carney.

Asked about a renewed push to revive the assault weapons ban, Carney said there had been “opposition to that since it expired within Congress.” 

The president touched down at Buckley Air Force base Sunday afternoon, where he was met by a delegation including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, the state’s Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D). 

After leaving the air base, Obama’s first stop was to the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora where he met with families of those killed in Friday’s attack, according to a White House pool report. 

Speaking aboard Air Force One, deputy communications director Jen Psaki said the “tragic events” had changed the “tone” of the presidential campaign between Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney. Psaki said the visit to Aurora was a “big priority for the President, to visit with the families, to do that as soon as it was possible and made sense on both sides.”

The tragic shooting which happened early Friday morning forced both Obama and Romney to pause their campaigns. Obama returned to Washington after delivering remarks on the killings at what was scheduled to be a campaign rally in Florida. Romney spoke briefly about the incident at Bow, N.H. before cancelling the rest of his events.

Both candidates are scheduled to return to the campaign trail on Monday. Obama will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) convention in Reno, Nev. and attend multiple events that evening in Oakland, Calif., including a private dinner and later a reception at the Fox Theater. 

Romney is headed to a fundraiser in Irvine, Calif., and will then address the VFW convention on Tuesday.

Psaki said campaign commercials in Colorado which were pulled after news of the shooting will remain off the air at least through Monday. But she added that the president’s speech in Reno was an “official event,” where Obama would discuss national security issues. 

The White House says Obama has been kept updated on developments as Aurora police continued their investigation and entered suspect James Holmes’s home, which was rigged with explosives early Sunday.

Carney said the administration would “continue to work with local law enforcement officials,” and said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was providing assistance to local agencies. 

Holmes, 24, the lone suspect in the killings, is believed to have entered the movie theater after midnight on Friday and opened fire before being apprehended by officials.

In his weekly address Saturday, Obama said he and federal law enforcement agencies would do “everything necessary to bring whoever’s responsible for this heinous crime to justice” and called on the public to turn to “prayer and reflection.”