In 2012 campaign, the subject hardly came up. As an Illinois state senator, he supported banning all semi-automatic weapons and advocated for tighter firearms restrictions. In the U.S. Senate, he voted against a law that would protect firearms dealers from lawsuits on the misuse of guns.
As president, he offered tepid support for the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1994, which institued background checks for gun purchases, and the separate 1994 assault-weapons ban. The only gun laws he has signed have expanded gun rights. After four years in office, his sole gun-law legacy is that he signed bills allowing guns in national parks and on Amtrak trains. He has not pushed for a renewal of the assault-weapons ban or offered public support for a Democratic bill that would alert police to any large-scale ammunitions purchases online.
Meanwhile, as the paranoid gun fringe rushes to reload, real gun-control advocates, such as New York City Police Chief Ray Kelly, are being undermined by inaction in Washington.
Obama correctly cites the difficulty of passing any federal gun restrictions when many members of Congress hold seats financed with National Rifle Association money. Even more troubling is the fact that support for gun control has declined sharply since he came into office.
But that is no excuse for failing to advocate for sensible gun laws. A July survey by Republican pollster Frank Lutz financed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns revealed that even NRA members favor reporting stolen guns to police, prohibiting people on terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns and doing criminal background checks on gun owners and gun-shop employees. And 75 percent of NRA members polled opposed gun-carry permits for those convicted of violent misdemeanors.
At a minimum, the president needs to be a strong advocate for those common-sense measures. He needs to use his bully pulpit to push for renewal of the assault-weapons ban and for stricter handgun controls.
The slogging might be tough, but no more than it was in 1994, when President Bill Clinton pushed for and enacted the assault-gun ban and Brady bill.