Calls from gun control groups for more federal restrictions on firearms after the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than a month will probably go unanswered.
A day after a gunman killed six people in a Sikh temple near Milwaukee and 16 days after the theater shooting in Colorado left 12 dead, President Barack Obama told reporters he would “examine additional ways that we can reduce violence.” While offering condolences to mass victims for the second time in less than a month, he made no mention of gun control.
Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, indicated there will be no new legislative initiatives from the White House and added that Congress has shown no sign of acting on the issue.
“We need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights and make it harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining weapons,” Carney told reporters at the White House.
With gun rights a politically difficult issue for Obama in swing states including Pennsylvania, the president’s position aligns him with his opponent in the November election, Republican Mitt Romney. That’s not surprising, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication in Philadelphia.
“The likelihood that a president in a closely contested election is going to do anything to mobilize the other candidate’s base approaches zero,” Jamieson said. “If there’s any possibility that the gun rights constituency isn’t enamored of Romney, and hence might be less likely to vote, why would you want to rile them up?”
During his 2008 campaign, Obama supported reinstating the assault weapon ban. Romney signed an assault weapon ban as governor of Massachusetts. When the subject was raised again after the July 20 mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, Obama indirectly reiterated his backing for the expired assault weapons law while emphasizing the nation must do more to prevent the daily violence that claims lives in many cities.
“Every day and a half, the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theater,” Obama said in a July 25 speech to the National Urban League in New Orleans.
While such high-profile tragedies spur talk of “new reforms, of new legislation,” Obama said in the address, “too often the efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying.”
Obama has promised administrative action to make sure background checks on gun buyers are thorough.
Romney, in the aftermath of the Colorado shooting, said new laws wouldn’t “make a difference in this type of tragedy.”
The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has run television ads during the Olympics calling for Obama and Romney to lay out specific plans for reducing gun violence. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent company of Bloomberg News, is co-chairman of the group.
“Every day that goes by without action, 34 more people will be murdered with guns,” he said in a statement yesterday. “The people who want to run this country need to tell us their plans to stop the bloodshed,”
The U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a statement today calling for “reasonable changes in our gun laws and regulations that could help to prevent senseless tragedies such as the one that has shocked Oak Creek and the nation.”
Gun-control advocates say Obama’s position may change if he wins re-election.
“In his heart he knows the right thing to do but he’s not doing it,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an interview. “I think it’s fair to say it’s because of politics, which is a shame.”
“It is truly an example where both men seeking the highest office in our nation are not listening to what the American public wants,” he said.
The public is split on the issue. A poll taken by the Pew Research Center July 26-29 found that 47 percent of Americans say controlling guns is the priority, while 46 percent say it’s more important to protect the right to own guns.
The National Rifle Association, based in the Washington suburb of Fairfax, Virginia, is the biggest advocate for the firearms owners. Its 4 million members are a key constituency for Republicans. A Gallup Organization poll last October found that Republicans are more likely to have guns in their homes than Democrats, 55 percent to 40 percent. The survey showed 47 percent of American adults have a firearm at home.
Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s director of public affairs, said in an e-mail today that the group “joins all Americans in extending our heartfelt condolences to the victims, their families and the community affected by this tragedy. We will not have further comment until all the facts are known.”
Larry Pratt, the executive director of the 300,000 member Gun Owners of America, based in Springfield, Virginia, was more direct: “We would encourage the president to come out for renewal of the Clinton gun ban. That would ensure that he’s defeated.” Military-style rifles were banned under President Bill Clinton, a law which later expired.
Pratt wasn’t much more enthusiastic about Romney, who supported restrictions on assault weapons in the past. “The need right now is to get rid of the president, so we’re willing to support Mitt Romney simply because that’s the instrument by which we’re going to remove the president,” Pratt said.
Even as Obama repeatedly says he won’t seek to restrict gun rights, advocates on both sides said they would expect Obama to return to the issue of gun control in a second term.
“He has demonstrated on other issues like marriage equality his ability to very admirably lead and follow his heart and do the right thing,” Gross said. “I would propose that there’s no issue that’s more important than this.”