Panetta, McChrystal Back Obama on Gun Control
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Panetta, McChrystal Back Obama on Gun Control

REUTERS/Larry Downing

A couple of big names in the military – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal – jumped into the gun control debate today, just one day after President Obama unveiled his gun control agenda, including the banning of military-style assault weapons.

Panetta, an enthusiastic sportsman and hunter, told troops at a military base in Italy this morning that only soldiers needed armor-piercing bullets or semi-automatic assault weapons.

Asked by a soldier what Obama would do to protect schoolchildren from gun violence without infringing on Americans' right to own guns, Panetta said action was needed after the attack on a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adults, Reuters reported.

Panetta is likely on his final tour of Europe as the chief of the Pentagon before retiring  from the administration. He told members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team at Vicenza that there were areas where steps could be taken. "I mean who the hell needs armor-piercing bullets except you guys in battle?" he said.

"I've been duck hunting since I was 10 years old. I love to hunt and I love to be able to share that joy with my kids,” Panetta added, in arguing that gun measures can be imposed that nonetheless protect Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms. “But for the life of me, I don't know why the hell people have to have an assault weapon."

McChrystal, meanwhile, came out in favor of gun control restrictions in a recent appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“I spent a career carrying typically either a M16, and later a M4 carbine,” he said. “And a M4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that. That’s what our soldiers ought to carry.”

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McChrystal also said, “I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look — I understand everybody’s desire to have whatever they want. But we have to protect our children and our police and we have to protect our population. And I think we have to take a very mature look at that…

“I think serious action is necessary,” he added. “Sometimes we talk about very limited actions on the edges, and I just don’t think that’s enough.”

McChrystal was doing Obama a big favor by taking this strong public stand, after McChrystal and the president parted company in June 2010 on less than chummy terms. Back then, Obama said he felt no "personal insult" from McChrystal but accepted his resignation as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan because he couldn't abide the scathing comments by McChrystal and his aides that appeared in an article in Rolling Stone magazine. 

Asked today what his message was to the National Rifle Association and the House Judiciary Committee, McChrystal said, “I think we have to look at the situation in America. The number of people killed by firearms is extraordinary compared to other nations. I don’t think we’re a bloodthirsty culture, and we need to look at everything we can do to safeguard our people.”