Some of the groups directed their frustration at President Obama, who was once a vocal advocate for stricter gun laws but has done little to change them.
Following remarks the president made in Fort Myers, Fla., where he cut short a campaign swing and told the nation that he is “heartbroken” about the shootings, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence responded by saying: “We don’t want sympathy. We want action.”
It’s not likely to receive any, in part because of the politics around the issue, which even gun-control advocates acknowledge aren’t in their favor.
“It’s pure calculus at this point, and the calculus is that it’s not worth touching this issue,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign.
That calculus, he and others said, includes the power of the National Rifle Association and its 4 million members — many of whom live in critical swing states, such as Virginia and Ohio, that are likely to determine this year’s presidential election.
There is also the reality that no gun-control measures could pass through Congress, where Republicans control the House and where, even in the Democrat-controlled Senate, support for gun rights is strong.
National polling, too, helps explain Obama’s position on the issue. A 2010 Gallup survey shows that support for greater gun restrictions has fallen 34 percentage points over 20 years, while support for fewer restrictions or the status quo has grown by about that amount.
Two of the top priorities for gun-control advocates are a ban on assault weapons and an expansion of required criminal background checks to include buyers at gun shows. But those measures wouldn’t have stopped James Holmes, the alleged shooter in Colorado, from buying most of his firearms. A ban on assault weapons may have blocked his purchase of an AR-15 assault rifle, but he still would have been able to buy the two pistols and shotgun he allegedly brought with him to the movie theater. All four weapons were purchased legally after background checks.
There’s no point, some Obama supporters say, in taking on issues with little hope of progress.
“Nothing happened when a congresswoman was shot in the head,” said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington. “Nothing happens when dozens of kids are shot in a movie theater. It’s a terrible truth, but it is the truth nonetheless.”
He was referring to the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) last year in Tucson, after which Obama wrote an op-ed piece in the Arizona Daily Star calling for a “new discussion” on how to make the nation safer and keep guns out of criminals’ hands. No concrete legislative proposals emerged.