Last Updated:April 20 @ 03:33 pm

Calls for gun control stir little support

By David Espo and Nancy Benac

WASHINGTON (AP) - Gun control advocates sputter at their own impotence. The National Rifle Association is politically ascendant. And Barack Obama's White House pledges to safeguard the Second Amendment in its first official response to the deaths of at least 12 people in a mass shooting at a new Batman movie screening in suburban Denver.

Once, every highly publicized outbreak of gun violence produced strong calls from Democrats and a few Republicans for tougher controls on firearms.

Now those pleas are muted, a political paradox that's grown more pronounced in an era scarred by Columbine, Virginia Tech, the wounding of a congresswoman and now the shooting in a suburban movie theater where carnage is expected on-screen only.

"We don't want sympathy. We want action," Dan Gross, president of the Brady campaign said Friday as President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney mourned the dead.

Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, was more emphatic than many in the early hours after the shooting. "Everyone is scared of the NRA," he said on MSNBC. "Number one, there are some things worth losing for in politics and to be able to prevent carnage like this is worth losing for."

Yet it's been more than a decade since gun control advocates had a realistic hope of getting the type of legislation they seek, despite predictions that each shocking outburst of violence would lead to action.

In 1994, Congress approved a 10-year ban on 19 types of military-style assault weapons. Some Democrats quickly came to believe the legislation contributed to their loss of the House a few months later.

Five years later, Vice President Al Gore cast a tie-breaking Senate vote on legislation to restrict sales at gun shows.

The two events turned out to be the high-water mark of recent Democratic drives to enact federal legislation aimed at reducing gun violence, and some Republicans said they could see the shift coming.

"The news media in its lather to distort this whole issue may be wrong in their estimation that this will help Al Gore," then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said in an Associated Press interview a few weeks after the tie-breaking vote. "As a matter of fact, it may already have hurt him, and it may hurt him a lot more."

By 2004, when the assault weapon ban lapsed, congressional Democrats made no serious attempt to pass an extension. President George W. Bush was content to let it fade into history.

Public sentiment had swung.

According to a Gallup poll in 1990, 78 percent of those surveyed said laws covering the sale of firearms should be stricter, while 19 percent said they should remain the same or be loosened.

By the fall of 2004 support for tougher laws had dropped to 54 percent. In last year's sounding, 43 percent said they should be stricter, and 55 percent said they should stay the same or be made more lenient.

In terms of electoral politics, Harry Wilson, a Roanoke College professor and author of a book on gun politics, said violent crime has been declining in recent years and, "It becomes increasingly difficult to make the argument that we need stricter gun control laws."

Additionally, he said in some regions, gun control "can be a winning issue for Democrats. But nationally, it's a loser ... and they have figured that out." Attempts to emphasize the issue will "really motivate the opposition. And in a political campaign, nobody wants to do that," he said.

At its core, Wilson said, the issue divides rural voters from urban voters.

Often, that means Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other. But not always.

In the current election cycle, the NRA has made 88 percent of its political donations to Republicans, and 12 percent to Democrats, according to OpenSecrets.org. The disparity obscures that the organization consistently supports some Democrats, a strategy that allows it to retain influence in both parties.

It also reported spending $2.9 million on lobbying last year.

Its clout was vividly on display in 2010 when majority Democrats in the House sidetracked legislation giving the District of Columbia a voting representative in the House of Representatives. Republicans had vowed to add an NRA-backed provision invalidating a city ban on handgun possession as the price for passage, and there was little doubt it had the votes to prevail.

Later in the year, the NRA objected to legislation to require groups airing political advertising to disclose donors. Fearing the fallout, enough rank and file Democrats demanded changes that the leadership had to revise the bill. A revised bill, granting the NRA and other large organizations an exemption, eventually passed.

Gross, head of the Brady Campaign, says Democrats have drawn the wrong lessons for years. "The cultural narrative exists because of the assessment of Al Gore's loss in 2000 and the mid-terms in 1994, and in both cases I think the gun issue was scapegoated," he said. "Those who didn't vote for Al Gore weren't going to vote for him anyway."

At the same time, Gross readily conceded the lingering hold of the issue.

"Look at Kerry when he felt he needed to dress up in hunting gear," he said, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate's well-photographed excursion into a duck blind in camouflage clothing in swing-state Ohio a few weeks before the 2004 election.

Four years later, Obama won the White House despite strong opposition from the NRA.

As a senator from Illinois and state lawmaker before that, he was a strong supporter of gun control.

Following last year's killing of six people and the wounding of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Obama called for steps to "keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place."

He advanced no legislative proposals then, and on Friday, spokesman Jay Carney said, "The president believes that we need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights of Americans, while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get them."

Obama isn't the only 2012 White House candidate to adjust his views on gun control.

In a losing Senate campaign in Massachusetts in 1994, Mitt Romney said, "I don't line up with the NRA." A decade later, as governor, he signed legislation making a state assault weapons ban permanent.

This year, bidding for support at the NRA convention, he said: "We need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners."

-----

AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP writer Jack Gillum contributed to this report.

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12 Comments

  1. lwessonComment by lwesson
    July 23, 2012 @ 10:42 am

    I watched Diane Feinstein debate some Republican. It was painful. Here, let me help those that are befuddled.

    What seems lost to most, or all Republicans, and certainly most or all Democrats is that The Bill of Rights is a roadblock to government power. The Second Amendment was/is a direct slap in the greedy fat face of Government. That The People are NOT subjects of The State, and that the ultimate power of self rule, resides in, We the People, NOT what ever The State says, deems, it is. Why is this so hard to understand? It is unique in the World, and Globalists–Internationalists hate it.

    The Founders were most leery that The People, could long maintain, do the work to “Keep”, as Franklin said, the Representative Republic, that was set up. The Constitution is but a thoughtful operational framework to contain a stronger government, compared to the weaker, Articles of Confederation. Contain it? Keep it from naturally evolving into a tyranny. Obama has complained and complained about The Constitution, slowing him down… .

    The Bill of Rights presses home the point that We the People, have unalienable rights, that cannot be taken away. Well, they can be given away. The double dog dare you of the Second Amendment, is the ultimate, final throw down against a tyrannical government. It is for The People, not the government. It is NOT about hunting, nor self protection per se, but about the ultimate maintenance that, again, We the People, are NOT SUBJECTS to The Government. The Government exists at our leisure, at our will, to serve us, not OWN us, direct us, crush us… This is lost for some strange mysterious reason, by our so called, Representatives.

    The next Republican that gets tongue tied explaining why an AR-15 and a hundred ammunition round drum is just crazy, all he or she needs to say is that such items are to keep up, to put the Government, in check. If Diane Feinstein can have her numerous guards with fully automatic machine guns for protection, The People can at least have semi-autos for a counter balance. If that makes her nervous, then good. A government that stops being “nervous” invariably becomes ambitious, careless, and seeks more and total power. Just look at the 1984 Orwellian Police States in so called, Free England, Europe.

    Remember, Obama’s pals, glibly said to an undercover agent, that if they achieve total control, that some 30 million or so needed to be liquidated. It is kind of hard to do the “Liquidation” being shot at. Comrade Lenin, Uncle Joe Stalin understood this little problem as did Hitler, Mao… .

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  2. bna42Comment by bna42
    July 23, 2012 @ 11:02 am

    My definition of “gun control” is when I control the gun.

    “Free people own guns–slaves don’t”

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    • canada3dayerComment by canada3dayer
      July 24, 2012 @ 5:08 am

      gun control = hitting your target.

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  3. PATRIOTComment by PATRIOT
    July 23, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    As all right thinking people will recognize, the mass murder taking place in Colorado was the work or a deranged individual. A problem America faces today is that psychotic people are allowed freedom without consideration for the threat they present to society. In years past, the mentally ill were committed to prevent harm to themselves and others. Liberal views toward the mentally ill and lack of funding for mental institutions resulted in the present condition. As in most cases involving psychotic people, others were aware Mr. Holmes was mentally ill, but took no action because of the potential for legal action against them. Until America comes to the conclusion that psychotic individuals must be institutionalized for the safety of all, these tragic events will continue to occur.

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    • bna42Comment by bna42
      July 23, 2012 @ 11:24 am

      “As in most cases involving psychotic people, others were aware Mr. Holmes was mentally ill, but took no action because of the potential for legal action against them.”

      PATRIOT,
      What evidence do you have that Holmes was “mentally ill”? WHO knew he was mentally ill and refused to take action? Since this man had no criminal record, had never been in trouble, was an intelligent, educated man who apparently showed no signs of being “mentally ill”, your comments are nothing more than speculation unless you can give credible evidence that this individual was “psychotic”. Do you think authorities should just choose people who have a stupid smirk on their faces and drag them to mental evaluations when they have given no reason to suspect them?

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    • lwessonComment by lwesson
      July 23, 2012 @ 11:57 am

      Must admit, that I am reminded of the Soviet Union, and it’s cleaver ruse of locking up people who were, ah, “psychotic”, for their own good, for their safety, for the protection of the State. Must control the smirk.

      The Compassion Police, have deconstructed age old traditional mental asylums and thrown such occupants into the streets making it even harder to determine who is stark raving mad, and who is just a sheeple or liberal. Thanks Compassion Police.

      In Criminal Law, we studied too many horrific crimes to sanely recall in blood splattered detail. My Prof. went from being anti death penalty, to wanting it in a broad category of crimes, and quick at that, once he worked with these people.

      Crawling into the demented minds, well, kind of made you feel ill. Heath Ledger, who I worked with (Patriot), who did the brilliant JOKER in the previous Batman movie, I think, was tortured by this role. He was a nice kid. Played chess… and Hollywood finally got to him.

      Anyway, the really smart criminals, devoid of any, much, moral compass construct, are the great con-men. Congressmen. I did not say that. Freudian slip. Thankfully, few become like Holmes.

      And one further thing, Holmes had associations, connections that are revealing. The news media, like FOX yesterday, says he was alone alone alone! Connections with Occupy Wall Street are being mentioned, funding, a movie back door assistant? Makes me wonder.

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  4. jenerseaComment by jenersea
    July 23, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

    There are laws on the books about commiting crimes with guns now. Problem is; is that they are not enforced. If you rob a store and use a gun, you should be charged everytime with robbery and having a gun to do it. Holmes needs to be dealt with quickly, convicted and executed for his crime. Not to be left around for years so we have to pay for his keep. Same thing with the Terroist at Fort Hood. There are stone cold killers out there and these 2 fit the description. Years ago the FBI went out and eliminated these types. They have to know that this behavior will be dealt with swiftly and surely.

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  5. JDZComment by JDZ
    July 23, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

    The ban on assault weapons should be resurrected and put back in force, and there should be a ban on high load magazines, etc. These weapons are for military and law enorcement and not for hunting and civilians, even for self defense. There are enough shotguns, hunting rifles, and various forms of handguns available to satisfy 2nd Amendment advocates. It also would seem to me that when someone buys assault rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, tear gas grenades, body armour, and such that some red flags should have gone up somewhere.

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    • PATRIOTComment by PATRIOT
      July 23, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

      JDZ — you have a right to your opinion but you are wrong. The majority of Americans disagree with you, especially 2nd amendment advocates. There is no difference in the manner in which a semi-automatic assualt rifle functions and a semi-automatic hunting rifle functions. If the government can ban one of them, it can ban the other. Gun control will never work to curtail crime and the progressive viewpoint really is not about crime anyway. Progressives use crime as an excuse to push gun control. What they really want is people control and unarmed people are easy to control. Progressives have a deep seated fear of private firearm ownership because they have a deep seated fear of freedom.

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  6. bna42Comment by bna42
    July 23, 2012 @ 6:29 pm

    “These weapons are for military and law enorcement and not for hunting and civilians, even for self defense.”

    JDZ, nowhere in the Second Amendment does it insist on armed citizens for “hunting”. The Amendment gives CIVILIANS the right to keep and bear arms as a safeguard against tyrannical politicians. Have you considered how many revolutions and civil wars are going on around the world right now? When it comes to U.S. soil, I want to be as well armed as the enemy. If I am facing AK-47′s, I don’t feel safe toting a shotgun or a handgun. Just watch the evening news and see the people in turmoil standing in the streets holding AK’s and RPG’s.

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  7. genesalComment by genesal
    July 23, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

    If you ban bombs and criminals have them (bombs) what would stop them from arming themselves if there was a weapon ban?

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  8. midwestbillComment by midwestbill
    July 24, 2012 @ 10:26 am

    People have been killing each outer in horrible ways long before guns were invented. There will always be crazy’s (that will kill us and our families) around forever. If they don’t have guns they will build bombs, drive cars into crowds, or just plain club us to death. It is not about guns it is about control.

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