In the wake of the tragic shooting in Colorado, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to explain what they would do about gun violence.
“Soothing words are nice,” said the mayor, an independent and gun control advocate who has not endorsed in the presidential race. “But maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.”
Speaking to reporters Friday, spokesman Jay Carney suggested there would be no new policy in the wake of this shooting.
“The president believes we need to take common sense measures that protect the Second Amendment rights of Americans while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing laws do not get them,” he said. “And there has been progress in that regard in terms of improving the volume and quality of information in background checks.”
The candidates’ positions on gun control, which has been a back burner issue for years now, also seem unlikely to change.
“I’m not going to take away your guns,” Obama promised in September 2008. However, he advocated closing the loophole that allows for gun purchases without background checks at gun shows and for reinstating the assault weapons ban.
The president signed bills allowing guns in national parks and on Amtrak. He has not pushed for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban — and Attorney General Eric Holder was reportedly chastised for suggesting he would. Nor has he moved towards closing the gun-show loophole.
In his remarks after the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, Obama barely mentioned gun control, and it did not come up in his State of the Union weeks later. That March, Obama wrote an Arizona Daily Star op-ed calling for better background checks. But the tragedy did not inspire serious gun-control initiatives.
Yet the National Rifle Association is still ardently anti-Obama and gun enthusiasts still view him very negatively.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has actually been more active than Obama on gun control — albeit during his time in Massachusetts. Since leaving office, he has moved away from those positions.
While running for Senate in Massachusetts in 1994, Romney supported background checks and a ban on some assault weapons. “That’s not going to make me the hero of the NRA,” he said. Running for governor in 2002, he said, “We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts — I support them. I won’t chip away at them. I believe they help protect us, and provide for our safety.”
As governor, in 2004, signed an assault-weapons ban in the state. However, that law won support from some gun-rights advocates by making it easier to get and renew a firearms license. Romney also raised the state’s gun-registration fee from $25 to $75.
Romney joined the National Rifle Association in 2006, a few months before launching his first presidential bid. “I’m a member of the NRA and believe firmly in the right to bear arms,” he said in 2007.
Pressed by NBC’s Tim Russert on the issue that year, he said, “I support Second Amendment rights, but I don’t line up 100 percent with the NRA. They take some positions that are different than mine.” He continued to support the assault-weapons ban, reaffirming that position in a 2008 debate.
However, in a subsequent interview with conservative bloggers, Romney said, “I don’t support any gun control legislation, the effort for a new assault weapons ban, with a ban on semi-automatic weapons, is something I would oppose. There’s no new legislation that I’m aware of or have heard of that I would support.”
Romney’s position has not changed notably since. In a recent speech to the NRA, he said, “We need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners.” He suggested that in a second term, Obama would do more to restrict gun rights.
But neither candidate seems poised to change current gun policy. Just as public opinion on gun control does not shift in the wake of such tragedies, both Romney and Obama are likely to play it safe.