On Dec. 14, 2012, hours after a gunman massacred 20 children at an elementary school in Connecticut, a choked-up President Obama said that “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
On Tuesday, after a year and a half with no new gun-control laws, a clearly frustrated Obama acknowledged that nothing will change until there is “a fundamental shift” in public attitudes and more people demand congressional action.
Public persuasion may be Obama’s last option as gun-control legislation looks increasingly unlikely this congressional election year and Obama faces his final 2½ years as president. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that Obama has not given up hope of achieving meaningful gun-violence legislation, but “that legislation is not going to pass without more grass-roots-level vocal support.”
During a question-and-answer session Tuesday on the social website Tumblr, Obama said of the 2012 mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn.: “The fact that 20 6-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible, and this town (of Washington) couldn’t do anything about it was stunning to me.”
Speaking just hours after another school shooting claimed two lives in Oregon, Obama said: “If public opinion does not demand change in Congress, it will not change.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time a president has had trouble achieving a major legislative goal.
Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had to give up plans to change Social Security and revamp the immigration system. Political opposition forced President Clinton to abandon his proposed health care plan in 1994. Obama himself is still seeking a major immigration bill.
In some cases, presidents simply have to move on to other issues or wait for the political winds to shift — something the Obama administration is seeking with respect to new gun laws.
Obama told Tumblr users that his “biggest frustration” as president has been that “this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage.”
While saying some lawmakers are “terrified” of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups, Obama cited another political factor: Gun rights backers tend to vote on their issues more than those who back gun-control measures.
Gun rights backers tend to vote Republican, and the GOP is favored to keep control of the House of Representatives in the November elections. Republicans also have a chance to take control of the Senate, a development that would make gun legislation that much more challenging.
Many GOP candidates make gun rights a key part of their campaigns, saying that proposed restrictions would be ineffective and infringe on Second Amendment rights.
“Everytown for Gun Safety,” an umbrella group of gun-control organizations co-founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and others, has launched a “Gun Sense Voter” campaign. It is designed to mobilize people on behalf of elected officials who will support new gun-safety laws.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said, “We are closing that intensity gap” on the NRA and other members of the gun lobby and “we are moving towards a huge cultural shift” on the issue.
“That may take months or years,” she said. “But we’re in this for the long haul.”
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said gun-control groups “are on the right trajectory” in terms of organizing, raising money and “amassing an army” that can pressure lawmakers at the congressional and state levels.
Echoing Obama, Gross said, “This isn’t going to change until the American public makes their voices heard.”
The NRA, in a statement on what it called Bloomberg’s $50 million campaign against the Second Amendment, said that “fortunately for gun owners, money alone can’t buy our rights. NRA’s power doesn’t manifest itself through dollars, but through the activism, voices and votes of gun owners already motivated to protect their freedom.”
A month after the shooting deaths of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Conn., the Obama administration proposed a package of legislation that included expanded background checks, renewal of an assault-weapons ban and restrictions of the sizes of ammunition clips.
During his Tumblr appearance on Tuesday, Obama said that supporters have to feel “passionately” enough about the gun violence issue to “go after” lawmakers who refuse to take action.
“Until that happens, sadly, not that much is going to change,” Obama said.