The White House made clear on Thursday that new legislation on gun control would not be on the political agenda this election year, as US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney engaged in their most extensive discussions on the issue since last week’s Colorado theater shootings.
Their comments revived — if briefly — a sensitive debate that has faded to the background in national politics and been virtually nonexistent in this year’s close presidential race.
While Obama called for tougher background checks on US citizens trying to buy a gun, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president is not pushing for new gun control legislation, though he still supports a ban on assault weapons. Carney said Obama intends to focus on other ways to combat violence.
Romney has said changing the nation’s laws would not prevent gun-related tragedies.
Sealing the matter, US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday the Senate’s schedule is too packed to even have a debate on gun control. Asked if the Senate might debate the issue next year, Reid said: “Nice try.”
The White House had faced fresh questions since the Colorado shootings about whether Obama, a strong supporter of gun control while a senator, would make an election-year push for stricter measures. Authorities say the firearms used to kill 12 people and injure dozens were purchased legally.
“A lot of gun owners would agree that an AK-47 belongs in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals — that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities,” Obama said in a speech on Wednesday to the National Urban League civil rights group.
However, gun control is a hotly partisan issue. The powerful National Rifle Association, which fights gun control and has huge sway in Congress, has successfully made the issue nearly off limits among most legislators who fear the group’s opposition at re-election time. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.
On Thursday, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence challenged both Obama and Romney to lead a search for solutions to gun violence, saying it’s shameful for leaders to play politics with the issue when lives could be saved. The group says 32 people are killed by guns in the US each day.
Obama’s speech on Wednesday acknowledged a national pattern of failing to follow through on calls for tougher gun restrictions after violent crimes.
“Too often, those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere,” Obama said.
Obama pledged to work with lawmakers of both parties to stop violence, including the steady drip of urban crime that has cost many young lives. That’s an important issue to the black community, whose turnout helped him win in 2008.
The president called for stricter background checks for people who want to purchase guns and restrictions to keep mentally unbalanced individuals from buying weapons.
Still, the White House comments on Thursday made it clear the Obama campaign was not going to take on a gun control issue certain to anger Republicans during a deadlocked campaign centered squarely on the economy.