If the Trayvon Martin and Gabrielle Giffords shootings didn't lead to a policy change, the Colorado tragedy probably won't either.
The National Rifle Association is still winning. Friday's shooting in Colorado is likely to fade into the current gun-policy no man's land where there is much talk and little action.
And that's not because the NRA is all-powerful. It's because lawmakers do not face or fear retaliation from gun-control supporters when they consider measures that loosen gun restrictions.
"The political reality is that the NRA is not as powerful as people believe, but there has not been enough grassroots activism and political support for tough gun laws. For members of Congress who have 50 things to care about, a vote for tougher gun laws can get you into trouble without much political reward," said Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of 700 Republican and Democratic mayors that lobbies for protecting police officers from illegal weapons with tougher background checks and better coordination with federal law enforcement.
If the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, the assassination attempt on former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, the massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, and a shooting spree outside an Alabama bar earlier this week haven't punctured the legislative arena, it's hard to imagine that the Colorado incident will be received any differently.
President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have been largely absent on the issue of guns, a fact gun-control advocates are well aware of. Attorney General Eric Holder sought a reinstatement of the federal assault-weapons ban in 2009, but there has been no movement on that front since that time. After the Giffords shooting in January 2011, Obama called for more-robust background checks. In the wake of the Colorado shooting, he called for "prayer and reflection."
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Romney signed a permanent assault-weapons ban in Massachusetts in 2004, but has shied away from addressing the ban on a national scale. He promised the NRA earlier this year that he would "stand up for the rights of hunters, sportsmen, and those seeking to protect their homes and their families." He has not made any statements to suggest that he would overturn current gun laws. Romney on Friday expressed sympathy to the Colorado families. "There is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us," he said.
"The president and this Congress have done nothing," said Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. On Obama and Romney, he observed, "They're both kind of guys that have blown with the political winds .... We haven't seen a lot of courage."
Everitt said the House is a lost cause for gun-control legislation, even in the wake of a tragedy like Colorado's. But he said the Senate might provide some fertile ground for action. The first hurdle, of course, is to figure out what to ask for.