The Obama administration is unlikely to make a new push on gun control legislation in the wake of a deadly shooting in Colorado last week, despite calls for new measures from advocates like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“I would say that the president’s views on this are as he has stated and as he spelled out in the op-ed that was published in an Arizona newspaper,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, referring to a piece the president wrote in the Arizona Daily Star last year in the wake of the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona.
Carney added, “He (Obama) 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.”
Carney, briefing reporters on Sunday, repeatedly referred to “existing law,” suggesting the administration is unlikely to pursue any kind of ban on assault weapons or high-capacity gun magazines, as Bloomberg has urged. Instead of new laws, Obama has called for faster and more accurate background checks for people who attempt to purchase weapons.
This political dynamic is unlikely to change, at least in the near future. In 2011, Bloomberg and other gun control advocates thought the shooting of Giffords would help reshape the political debate around guns and force Congress and Obama to act on the issue. But Republicans remain strongly opposed to any gun control legislation, as do many Democrats from more conservative districts who are wary of incurring the wrath of the National Rifle Association.
And liberal Democrats view the issue politically as one with high risk and limited reward: people who strongly support gun control are likely already going to vote for Obama, while Democrats worry it could turn off swing voters in states like Ohio and Colorado, who Obama needs to win reelection.
This Democratic view comes despite some polls showing broad support for some additional new gun restrictions. For example, a TIME magazine poll last year found that 73 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents, and 49 percent of Republicans agree that the sale of semi-automatic weapons, like the one the shooter in Aurora used, should be banned.
But these results are complicated. A Pew Research Center poll earlier this year 49 percent of people said it was more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns, while 45 percent it was more important to control gun ownership. Only 35 percent of African-Americans and 27 percent of Democrats prioritized gun rights, but 55 percent of independents did, a crucial number for both political parties.
The key question now is if Obama would push gun control in a second term as president, when he would no longer have to be as worried about his political standing.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr