By Mike Lillis - 07/25/12 01:21 AM EDT
Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday said he agrees with President Obama that Congress should not approve new gun laws in response to the Colorado movie-theater shootings.
“The White House has made clear that they are not going to use this horrific event to push for legislation,” Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters in the Capitol, “and I agree.”
The dynamics have made for a rare show of harmony between the Speaker and the president in an election year when the two parties have been at each other’s throats on everything from student loans to tax cuts.
Those Democrats are urging a wide range of reforms, including tougher screenings of potential gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons and a prohibition on high-capacity clips like the one allegedly used in the Colorado shooting.
“We’ve got to ban these things once and for all,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said during a press briefing Tuesday urging new reforms. “There are no more excuses for inaction.”
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who lost her husband in a 1993 commuter-train shooting, echoed that call.
“We do not have to have citizens armed to the teeth so they can kill innocent people,” she said.
The debate comes less than a week after a gunman stormed into a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and shot 71 people — killing 12 — during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The suspect allegedly used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle for the attack — a firearm that was outlawed by the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), who represents Aurora, was among the first Democrats to call for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban in the wake of the tragedy.
Obama, however, has so far advocated a milder approach.
“The president’s view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Sunday, as Obama was en route to Colorado to meet with victims and their families. “That’s his focus right now.”
From a policy standpoint, the president’s position is something of a surprise. On the campaign trail in 2008, Obama vowed to fight for tougher gun laws, including reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.
Politically, however, the president’s caution is consistent with the wariness among many Democratic leaders to buck the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA). That caution dates back to 1994, when Democrats were swept out of the House majority in a bruising loss that some attributed to the gun reforms the party passed earlier that year.
“There is almost a resignation to the futility of our mission,” Lautenberg conceded Tuesday when asked about Obama’s position.
Republicans have not been immune to NRA pressure. Mitt Romney, for instance, enacted an assault weapons ban as governor of Massachusetts. But the presumptive GOP presidential nominee has since abandoned that support, arguing that tougher gun laws wouldn’t have prevented the shootings.
“[I] don’t believe that new laws are going to make a difference in this type of tragedy,” Romney told CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report” on Monday.
Despite the obstacles, Democratic gun reformers are vowing not to give up. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), for instance, conceded that gun reforms face enormous hurdles with Republicans controlling the House, but suggested that changes like the assault weapons ban are within grasp if Obama and other Democratic leaders take their case directly to the public.
“We need to create a national consensus that restraints on the availability of weapons that can kill a lot of people very quickly are appropriate,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), another strong proponent of tougher gun laws, said reformers would be persistent — and patient.
“Nothing of great consequence in our country has ever been legislated … without a battle,” he said, “sometimes for years.”