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.
One possibility is legislation sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., to ban "large capacity ammunition feeding devices." But that would only work if the Colorado shooter used a legally purchased magazine rifle. Even then, that bill faces long odds. A slightly easier lift in Congress might be another Maloney bill (sponsored in the Senate by Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.) to tighten up the background-check reporting system.
Pro-gun advocates say this is a tired strategy of exploiting a tragedy to carve out gun rights. "Here's what we're concerned about. It's not a massive gun-control bill greatly [restricting] people's rights. It's the salami, so the other side can figure out just how thin a slice they can cut off the Second Amendment and they settle for that," said John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America.
But who are we kidding? This is a town that can barely handle the upcoming fiscal cliff that everyone agrees should be fixed. It is not exactly a friendly political environment for debating tough issues like how to assess the mental health of people who want to buy guns. Banning gun sales among Republicans is as taboo as raising taxes. Velloco said he is confident that members of Congress understand that "restricting the right of law-abiding citizens is not going to stop a crazed madman."