House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats didn’t push for legislation to reduce access to guns even when they controlled the White House and Congress because “there was no prospect of success” in a Senate that requires 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles.
“We wanted the members to be here, to continue to make the fight, so that when there was a prospect of success, they would be here rather than being cleared out by the NRA,” Pelosi said. “We all saw that happen when we lost in 1994 – cleared out by the NRA,” after voting to ban assault weapons.
Gun-control advocates have pressed Obama to fill a years-long vacancy for a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives while Congress is on recess, since lawmakers have failed to confirm his choice. They also want him to direct his Justice Department to prosecute those who lie on background-check forms and to lift a gag order that keeps the public from receiving information about gun traffickers.
Further, they want the president to lobby Congress to make gun trafficking a felony, require every person-to-person gun sale to be subject to a background check – including private sales – and ban assault weapons.
Democrats have shied away from gun control since the 1990s, particularly after losing so many seats in the 1994 election, when they realized it was working against them in marginal states and wouldn’t make much of an impact on the supply of guns, said William Vizzard, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Sacramento, who was a special agent in charge at the ATF.
“I can’t fault the administration and I’d probably do the same thing, because the first rule of politics is you’ve got to be able to count,” Vizzard said. “It’s like global warming, in that, yes, it’s theoretically possible to do something, but it’s not politically possible.”
The NRA, the nation’s largest gun lobby, spent 3,199 times what the Brady Campaign during the 2012 elections: $18.6 million compared with $5,816, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes transparency in government.
Some of the spending was aimed at Obama, who the NRA charged had “stacked the Supreme Court with anti-gun justices.” The group also seized on his answer to a question in a presidential debate this year, when he tepidly endorsed reviving the assault weapons ban as a way of cutting crime.
One NRA ad accused the administration of “threats to our sovereignty,” a reference to a proposed United Nations international arms-trade treaty that the NRA claims could be used “for the imposition of extremist gun control.”
At a news conference Wednesday announcing efforts to curb gun violence, a reporter asked Obama, “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been president of the United States dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve been on vacation.”
David Lightman contributed to this report.