By Mike Lillis - 01/13/11 12:42 AM EST
The White House has disappointed gun-control advocates on and off Capitol Hill with its silence on the issue.
Although President Obama ran on campaign vows of reinstating the assault-weapons ban and closing the gun-show loophole, among other reforms, he’s been all but mute on those issues since entering the White House two years ago — a silence that’s continued in the wake of Saturday’s shootings in Arizona.
Lawmakers such as Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) have also raised their voices, saying the success of any proposed reforms will hinge directly on whether Obama prioritizes them.
“Effective gun laws and enforcement must become a priority for this administration,” Quigley said in an e-mail. “It is my profound hope that the administration will take action on this issue in the coming year, not just because of what happened in Tucson but because of what happens every day in Chicago and across the country.”
A White House official, speaking anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the topic, said Wednesday that Obama will look at any gun-control proposals coming out of Congress, but isn’t ready to put his weight behind any of them.
“The president’s focus right now is the healing process and memorializing the lives that were lost,” the official said in an e-mail.
Obama on Wednesday evening spoke at a memorial service in Tucson for the victims of the weekend rampage, in which six people were killed and 14 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who remains in critical condition.
The primary suspect in the Arizona shootings, Jared Lee Loughner, had been expelled from a local community college for behavioral problems and denied a spot in the military for a history of drug abuse, according to numerous reports. Yet in November he was able to buy a firearm with a magazine holding more than 30 bullets — the same gun he allegedly used in the weekend attack.
Gun reformers argue that the assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004, might have prevented some of the carnage because that law limited newly manufactured magazines to 10 bullets.
Although President Obama made the renewal of the assault-weapons ban an issue on the campaign trail, he encountered fierce opposition on Capitol Hill — even among Democrats — and all but abandoned that vow after arriving at the White House. Indeed, when Attorney General Eric Holder in early 2009 announced his support for reinstating that law, 65 House Democrats wrote to the White House attacking the proposal.
“Law-abiding Americans use these guns for all the same reasons they use any other kind of gun — competitive shooting, hunting and defending their homes and families,” the Democrats wrote at the time.
Some Democrats said this week that Obama simply hasn’t put his neck out far enough to make good on his gun-reform promises.
“If he was serious about it, he would have done it,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said in a phone interview Tuesday. “You have to pick your fights, and I think he just decided it was a losing battle.”
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), for instance, are crafting legislation to ban high-capacity magazines. Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, is poised to offer a bill preventing people from carrying guns within 1,000 feet of high-profile government officials, including members of Congress. And Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday introduced legislation requiring newly unlicensed gun dealers to continue performing background checks on prospective buyers — something not currently required under the law.
If Obama wants to make good on his gun-reform promises, Ackerman said, the Arizona tragedy presents “the opportune moment to do it.”
“Without the White House, it’s very difficult to get major legislation through,” he said. “Their leadership will be essential.”
The Brady Campaign last year gave Obama an “F” for what the group deemed a “lack of leadership for common-sense gun laws.”
“We think this is the perfect time for Obama to step back into a leadership role on the gun issue,” said Chad Ramsey, federal legislative director of the Brady Campaign. “I can’t see success on this issue without him stepping in.”