Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
In the wake of last Friday’s horrifying massacre in Aurora, Colo., a tenuous agreement to avoid “politicizing” the tragedy has given way to the predictable shouting match between powerful guns rights advocates and their gun control adversaries, who see a rare opportunity to rehash the debate about the country’s lax gun laws. In particular, gun control activists see an opening on the issue of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, a 1994 law that would have made it far more difficult for Aurora suspect James Holmes to obtain an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, one of the weapons used in the movie theatre massacre. The law expired under a sunset provision in 2004, and liberals have so far failed to muster the political will to renew the ban.
But if the liberal gun control lobby was hoping that the events in Aurora would help them win over allies in the White House, they can stop holding their breath.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One last night, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Obama campaign press secretary Jen Psaki made it clear that President Barack Obama will not push Congress to take up the Federal Assault Weapons Ban again.
Here are the relevant excerpts from the White House transcript (emphasis mine):
MR. CARNEY:…He [the President] believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons. And there are a number of steps that have been taken and a number of others that can be taken to accomplish that goal.
I don’t have any — the Department of Justice can provide more details in terms of some of the steps that we’ve taken involving making higher quantity and quality of information available in background checks, and other measures they’ve taken which I know they can provide to you, working with law enforcement agencies. But the President’s view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law. And that’s his focus right now.
QUESTION: In terms of like assault weapons or something like that, there’s no renewed push for a renewed assault weapons ban?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, there has been opposition to that since it expired within Congress, and I think — I wouldn’t argue with your assessment about that. So the President is focused on doing the things that we can do that protect Second Amendment rights, which he thinks is important, but also to make it harder for individuals who should not, under existing law, have weapons to obtain them.
QUESTION: Does the President believe that this issue of gun control should now have sort of a larger role in the campaign? It hasn’t really been talked about much before this.
MS. PSAKI: I think this stage where this is so fresh and new for so many people, including the people in Colorado, who are still mourning the loss of their loved ones, will be for a long time, many people are still recovering, we’re still learning what exactly happened here and more details — that’s where our focus is right now. And so it’s really too early to say how this will play. And again, we’re just taking it day by day. That’s what our focus is today.
But despite the liberal outcry, Obama’s silence on gun control shouldn’t be surprising, despite the tragedy in Aurora. The Obama administration has been almost totally silent on gun control for the past three years, even in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting of then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The issue is a political loser for the President, who can ill-afford to open up a third campaign front against the powerful — and well-funded — NRA lobby going into the 2012 fall campaign. So however strong the pressure from the left might be to address gun control in the coming weeks, the pressure to maintain the status quo will always be a lot a stronger.
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