Obama weeps over school massacre
03:47 - Source: CNN

Watch CNN’s LIVE TV coverage of the Connecticut elementary school shooting as the story continues to unfold. Do you own a gun that fell under the now-expired federal weapons ban? Tell us why.

Story highlights

Clinton-era assault weapons ban expired in 2004

Obama carefully avoided thorny Second Amendment questions during first term

Three guns recovered in Connecticut; school shooting mostly killed children

A tearful Obama urges "meaningful action" to prevent more tragedies

Washington CNN  — 

The White House said President Barack Obama supports reinstatement of a federal ban on assault weapons – a position he took in the 2008 campaign but failed to press during his first term.

“It does remain a commitment of his,” presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters as the nation reeled from a mass shooting in Connecticut that mainly killed school children.

An emotional Obama did not address that issue directly in a televised statement from the White House on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that killed 26 people, but he said something had to be done.

“We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” said Obama, the father of two girls.

He wiped away tears when he spoke of the “beautiful little kids” killed in the massacre.

Complete coverage on the Connecticut school shooting

Police recovered three weapons from the scene: a semiautomatic .223-caliber rifle made by Bushmaster, a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both handguns, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

Others also spoke out for a strong federal response.

“We cannot simply accept this as a routine product of modern American life. If now is not the time to have a serious discussion about gun control and the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our society, I don’t know when is,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said in a statement.

Witness: At least 100 rounds fired

Congress approved a ban on assault weapons in 1994. The prohibition, which expired in 2004, did not eliminate them, but restricted their features, limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds and regulating pistol grips, bayonet attachments and flash suppressors.

Gun rights generally divide Americans.

A Pew poll conducted after the 2011 assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, which killed six other people, found that 49% of Americans said it was “more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns,” while 46% said it was “more important to control gun ownership.”

But a survey conducted by CNN/ORC International in August shortly after the deadly theater mass shooting earlier this year in Aurora, Colorado, found that 76% of those surveyed believe “there should be some restrictions on owning guns.”

Tweets from the shooting

Obama supported a platform while running for president in 2008 that included reinstating the assault weapons ban, but has largely avoided the issue of gun control during his first term.

He wrote an opinion piece two months after the Giffords shooting acknowledging the importance of the Second Amendment right to bear arms and called for a “focus” on “effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.”

Obama said at a presidential debate in October that he wanted a “broader conversation” in general about reducing gun violence.

“Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced,” he said.

The National Rifle Association, which advocates for gun rights, said in a statement that it would not have any comment on the Connecticut shooting “until the facts are thoroughly known.”

Kristin Goss, an associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University and author of “Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America,” said earlier this year that the pro-gun control side of the issue “has struggled to come up with a compelling narrative” to persuade more people to support stricter gun laws.

“For a long time, these gun violence rates and massacres spoke for themselves. They relied on that to make the case but were up against a very powerful but very well-disciplined and skillful army that was good at taking those arguments apart,” Goss said.

Analysis: Why gun controls are off the agenda in America

CNN’s Jessica Yellin and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.