VICENZA, Italy – When U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta talks to troops, he spends most of his time thanking them for their service, talking about the situation in Afghanistan, laying out the Pentagon’s year-old military strategy and warning about looming defense spending cuts.
But during a stop at a U.S. Army garrison in Italy, Panetta tackled another subject, one that has been at the forefront of public debate in the United States: gun control.
Asked by a soldier about the gun-control debate that has dominated headlines following an elementary school shooting in Connecticut where 20 students and six teachers were killed by a lone shooter, Panetta let his stance on the issue be know.
“For the life of me, I don’t know why the hell people have to have assault weapons,” Panetta said. “I believe in the second amendment, I believe people have the right to own weapons, but when these kids are getting killed in schools … we just have to try to do what we can to make sure that we take some steps hereto try to protect those kids.”
President Barack Obama on Jan. 16 unveiled series of steps his administration would take to tighten gun-control laws.
“I think this can be done. I think steps can be taken that will not undermine the second amendment and at the same time try to protect some of our schools so that the nuts that are out there won’t use these kinds of weapons to wipe ‘em out.”
Panetta reminisced about his time as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and that administrations work to ban assault weapons.
“Unfortunately, that ban then went out of effect,” Panetta said, who noted he has been a duck hunter since he was 10 years old.
Panetta also spoke out about the public use of armor-piercing bullets.
“Who the hell needs armor-piercing bullets except you guys in battle?” he said to the soldiers.