Despite promises, Obama, Dem Congress have been gun-friendly

Gun-control supporters are expressing frustration with the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress for not standing up to groups like the National Rifle Association.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who succeeded now White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the lower chamber, told The Hill, “I can’t even get a hearing [on gun control issues].”

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He added, “I’m not blaming the Republicans. I’m blaming [Democratic] leadership and the administration. They’re in charge. … It’s a question of priorities.”

The gun-control community is among several factions on the left that are upset with the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress.

But some Democrats argue that gun-control bills in the House and Senate are well short of the votes necessary to clear Congress.

Quigley noted the 111th Congress has not debated closing the gun-show loophole or reauthorizing the assault weapons ban, which Obama promised to pursue on the presidential campaign trail.

Instead, Democrats have passed gun-rights measures, including the “Protecting Gun Owners in Bankruptcy Act of 2010” and legislation that would allow guns in national parks and on Amtrak trains.

Claiming that Obama would be the most anti-gun president in U.S. history, the NRA launched a $15 million ad campaign against the Democratic nominee in 2008.

That year, Obama spoke out in favor of closing the gun-show loophole and requiring mandatory background checks on purchasers at gun shows.

At the time, Obama said, “I also believe that we have to make guns in this country childproof ... I support making the expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent. I believe that these weapons, such as AK-47s, belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets. These are also not weapons that are used by hunters, sportsmen, and sportswomen.”

But it was Obama’s 2008 comments at a private function in San Francisco about Americans in small towns who “cling to religion and guns” that attracted far more attention.

Before he was sworn into office, gun sales spiked as some feared Obama would move quickly to pass gun-control bills.

It hasn’t happened. And it’s unlikely to happen in the next Congress, when there will probably be many more Republicans on Capitol Hill and Obama will be gearing up for his reelection campaign.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which endorsed Obama in 2008, gave the president an “F” for his first year in office.

Paul Helmke, president of the group, said, “We’re disappointed in Obama.”

While he didn’t expect Obama to push gun-control legislation during his first couple of years in office, Helmke expressed surprise the president has not talked more about addressing gun-related violence.

“We did expected him to speak more about it,” Helmke said, “He’s avoided it.”

The White House did not comment for this article, but has previously pointed to the administration’s efforts to stanch the flow of firearms across the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration also has touted the fact that the economic stimulus package provided significant funding for police officers.

Many Democrats have been reluctant to embrace gun-control legislation since the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress. Political analysts have said then-President Clinton’s crime bill, which contained the ban on federal assault weapons, helped Republican turnout that year. The ban expired in 2004.

Helmke pointed out that gun control is not a straight party-line issue, predicting that some of the House Democrats who will lose their reelection bids are supporters of gun rights. Furthermore, Republican Senate hopefuls Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill) and Mike Castle (Del.) favor gun-control measures, he added.

John Velleco, director of federal affairs at Gun Owners of America, called Obama’s record “mixed” on guns.

Velleco said the gun-control agenda of the president and Democratic leaders is clear, but they lack the votes to move it.

“The old-school liberals in charge of Congress were put in power on the backs of newly elected conservative Democrats,” Velleco said. “Democratic leaders have a balancing act.”

While Congress has pushed through legislation favored by gun-rights groups, Velleco said many Democrats — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) — have approved Obama nominees who favor gun control, including Attorney General Eric Holder. Reid, who favors gun rights, is in a tight reelection battle with Republican Sharron Angle, a Gun Owners of America member.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said Democrats have taken on various special interests since they took over Congress in 2006. Yet, she has not gone toe-to-toe with gun-rights groups.

After the deadly 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University, Pelosi and other Democrats worked with the NRA to craft a gun bill that was later signed into law.

Needing votes to pass their campaign finance reform bill this year, House Democratic leaders exempted the NRA from their Disclose Act, which ultimately passed the House this summer.

And the D.C. voting rights bill, a priority for Democrats for years, stalled amid a dispute over a gun-rights amendment.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment on this article.