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Panetta defends Obama's gun control package

VICENZA, Italy (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta fired off a strong defense of gun control legislation Thursday, in front of a decidedly skeptical audience.

NRA chief says group accepts background checks

BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the National Rifle Association says the organization has no problem with tighter background checks of gun purchasers.

But association president David Keene also says too much emphasis has been placed on banning certain firearms.

In an interview on "CBS This Morning" Thursday, Keene argues, quote, "The real question that needs to be addressed is not what we do about guns, but what we do to make our schools safer."

The NRA has come under close scrutiny in the wake of Newtown, Conn., shootings that killed 20 children and six adults.

Keene said officials should focus more attention on a "devastatingly broken mental health system in this country," if they genuinely want to end gun violence.

He said the NRA has been "generally supportive" of stronger background checks.

Speaking to about 150 members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Panetta said steps can be taken to protect kids in school without undermining the Second Amendment.

"Who the hell needs armor-piercing bullets except you guys in battle?" Panetta told the soldiers at the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza in northern Italy. "For the life of me, I don't know why the hell people have to have assault weapons."

Panetta, who said he believes in the Second Amendment and has been a longtime duck hunter, was asked about the issue by a soldier who wanted to know what steps the Obama administration was going to take to deal with attacks in schools that "don't have to do with tearing apart our Second Amendment."

Known for his often blunt and colorful language, Panetta added that things can be done to protect children "so that the nuts that are out there won't use these kinds of weapons to wipe them out."

President Barack Obama's sweeping gun control package includes calls for a ban on assault weapons and a universal requirement for background checks on gun purchases.

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