By Jeremy Herb - 01/17/13 03:08 PM EST
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta jumped into the gun-control debate Thursday, throwing his support behind President Obama's call for an assault-weapons ban while talking to U.S. troops in Italy.
Panetta weighed in on Obama's gun-control push when asked by a soldier what the president would do to protect schoolchildren without “tearing apart our Second Amendment.”
Panetta said that measures could be taken without infringing upon the rights of gun owners. He backed Obama's call to renew the assault-weapons ban and take other measures like universal background checks for all gun owners.
Panetta was President Clinton's chief of staff when the assault weapons ban was passed by Congress in 1994.
"Unfortunately, that ban went out of effect," he said, according to Reuters.
Panetta noted that he is a hunter and believes in the Second Amendment, but said that steps can be taken to protect schoolchildren "so that the nuts that are out there won't use these kinds of weapons to wipe them out."