Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who worked in the White House under Obama and President Bill Clinton, recalled that Clinton succeeded in passing some gun control measures early in his first term: waiting periods, background checks and an assault weapons ban. But later, even after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, which left 12 students and a teacher dead, the president wasn’t able to accomplish more.
“Everyone knows this will be a tough slog,” Emanuel said. “While Newtown has focused us . . . it’s been a tipping point, but it’s not a guarantee.”
A Pew Research Center survey released this week found that for the first time since Obama became president, more than 50 percent of the public – 51 percent, to be exact – thought it was important to control gun ownership. That’s only 4 percentage points higher than it was last summer after a gunman in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., murdered a dozen people.
“It’s modest, but significant,” said Carroll Doherty, Pew’s associate director.
Significant enough to at least change some minds.
Obama avoided the contentious subject of gun control during his first term, expressing views on the topic when asked, but rarely volunteering or pushing for policy changes. The Brady Campaign, the pre-eminent gun-control organization in the nation, gave him an F.
But the president called the day of the Newtown shootings the worst of his presidency, tearing up twice publicly when speaking about the “precious” children who died. A month later, in a high-profile public announcement complete with White House flourishes, Obama proposed banning assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines, requiring background checks on all gun purchases, penalizing those who buy guns from unlicensed dealers, hiring 1,000 more school resource officers and spending millions more on training, research and counseling.
How successful he’ll eventually be when the wrangling begins next week on Capitol Hill remains to be seen.
Some governors, including possible presidential contenders in 2016, have lined up behind their own new restrictions.
New York was the first state to adopt sweeping changes to expand the ban on assault weapons and keep guns away from the mentally ill. “We don’t need another tragedy to point out the problems in the system,” Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference.
In Maryland, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley asked the legislature to ban military-style firearms and ammunition clips while revamping mental health and school safety programs. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal, a possible Republican presidential hopeful, unveiled a plan to share information with the national criminal background-check system.
In New Jersey, another oft-mentioned GOP contender, Gov. Chris Christie, sidestepped a question about banning assault weapons. “The fact is, I’m willing to have that conversation,” he said. “That’s more than a lot of people will say.”
Almost overnight, those who back gun control were being courted by the White House and on Capitol Hill. Some formed new groups – most notably former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 – increased their lobbying, and received more attention in the media.
“There’s no question that after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, this time is different,” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was killed in a shooting on a Long Island commuter train in 1993. “We are hearing from more people than we’ve ever heard before.”
But is it enough?