Both presidential candidates were blasted by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – a gun-control advocate – for not taking stronger stands in reaction to the July 20 shootings at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, which killed 12 people. Considering that the alleged shooter is reported to have bought large amounts of ammunition online and carried the bullets in large magazines, the incident acted as a prism for the candidates' views on gun control.
A few days after the shootings, Obama did make perhaps his most overt gun-control comment since the 2008 primaries: “I … believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals,” he said in New Orleans. “That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.”
On Aug. 6, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama "does support renewing the assault-weapons ban,” which would ban civilians from buying some semiautomatic weapons, but “there has been reluctance by Congress to pass that renewal.”
Obama himself has not publicly pushed a renewal of the federal law, which expired in 2004, though he supported renewal as a presidential candidate. Nor has Obama overtly backed a long-shot Democratic bill that would alert police to large-scale ammunition purchases online.
Instead, Obama more generally called for a “common sense” approach to assault-weapon ownership after the Aurora shootings, specifically that no mentally unstable person should be able to legally buy those kinds of arms. (The mental health of the alleged shooter, James Holmes, is in question.)
As a former governor who signed an assault-weapons ban, Romney has gone on record supporting such measures in the past. But his views have evolved. In an interview with political blog Instapundit in 2008, Romney said: “I don’t support any gun-control legislation – the effort for a new assault-weapons ban, with a ban on semiautomatic weapons, is something I would oppose. There’s no new legislation that I’m aware of or have heard of that I would support.”
He remained firm on that claim in the Aurora aftermath, saying new laws would not have stopped what happened. And if new laws can’t stop deranged people from mass murdering their fellow citizens, then they will only impact law-abiding citizens, he said.
In a July 23 interview on CNBC's "The Kudlow Report," Romney was also asked whether he’d back proposals to ban online ammunition sales or purchases of semiautomatic rifles. "Our challenge is not the laws, our challenge is people who, obviously, are distracted from reality and do unthinkable, unimaginable, inexplicable things," Romney answered.
Romney is seen as more likely to support the expansion of gun rights, such as reciprocal concealed carry, which would allow concealed-carry permit holders to move across state lines without fear of getting into trouble with local police – though he has not taken a public stance on the issue.
Romney’s tenure in Massachusetts was widely seen as a net gain for state gun owners, since he also boosted protections for shooting clubs and relaxed restrictions on manufacturer testing of some types of pistols.