Just a few weeks ago, the current congressional recess seemed like an enormous opportunity for advocates on both sides of the gun-control debate, a chance to send supporters to meetings with lawmakers at home.

The final weeks of summer had been dominated by anger about mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio. In the aftermath of the attacks, just hours apart, President Trump seemed open to compromise with Democrats on expanded background checks for gun purchases.

Trump has since hemmed, hawed and hedged on the issue. But last month, he dispatched his top advisers to Congress to try to forge a bipartisan pact.

On Sept. 18, Attorney General William P. Barr moved around the House and Senate with senior White House aides at his side, trying to negotiate a complicated deal. That shuttle diplomacy provided a glimmer of hope for gun-control advocates, even as some Trump aides said Barr wasn’t speaking for the president.

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“He’s interested in exploring meaningful solutions that will actually protect people, make people safer,” Barr told reporters in an impromptu briefing in the Capitol basement that day.

Then the Trump news cycle, as it so often does, intervened. The national attention shifted from mass shootings to mass scandal, complete with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) formally declaring an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s efforts to pressure foreign allies and rivals to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically.

Now, the energy behind a compromise on gun legislation has faded into the background, clustered with so many other legislative issues onto the back burner.

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Across the country, voters also seem to be struggling with priorities. Two weeks after Barr’s press briefing, The Washington Post attended a series of town hall meetings and found people expressing concerns about many different issues, from impeachment to climate change, and that the gun safety focus blended in with the rest.

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At a pair of constituent meetings in central Michigan, freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) faced no questions about gun violence. Outside Detroit on Wednesday night, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D) mentioned Democratic efforts to thwart gun violence in her opening remarks but never faced a question from a constituent in the 70-minute meeting.

At a long town hall 60 miles north of Philadelphia, Rep. Susan Wild (D) faced roughly three dozen questions from constituents, according to reports. Just one dealt with guns.

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The issue has surfaced at some events, but mostly at meetings billed in advance as a discussion of gun rights. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), who supports many of the gun proposals advanced by House Democrats, had an angry clash with constituents at an event entirely devoted to guns and held in a building that also housed a gun club.

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Outside Houston, freshman Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Tex.) held a gun forum Friday, focused entirely on ways to stop mass shootings and stem gun violence.

And in southeastern Virginia, close to where 12 municipal employees were killed by a disgruntled ex-employee in May, Rep. Elaine Luria (D) included guns as one of four key issues to discuss at Thursday night’s town hall. According to The Washington Post’s Jenna Portnoy, the issue received 15 minutes of attention.

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Not surprisingly, the first portion of Luria’s event was devoted to her decision to come out as a leading advocate for impeachment proceedings against Trump after he acknowledged that he pressured Ukraine’s president to conduct investigations into former vice president Joe Biden, one of his potential 2020 rivals.

“I didn’t spend 20 years defending our country in uniform to watch something like this happen,” Luria, a retired Navy commander who served on nuclear ships, told the crowd.

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A big gun-control law always seemed a long shot, given the GOP’s strong embrace of the NRA and Democrats’ reluctance to settle for modest compromises given the huge public support for several of their proposals.

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But some Democrats hold out hope that Trump would view the House’s impeachment proceedings as a chance to show the public that he is concentrated on doing the work of president and not just focused on his own political survival.

“I think the president’s got to make a calculation as to how he’s going to manage through impeachment and other ways — that he can show he’s still relevant,” Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), one of the lead Democratic negotiators on guns, told reporters in Las Vegas at an event on the two-year anniversary of the nation’s worst mass shooting. “I’ve made this point directly to the president a couple of times.”

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Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, followed by an acquittal in the Senate, offers one example of how things could play out. With a booming economy, Clinton famously declared he could “compartmentalize” defending himself, while continuing to perform the normal work of chief executive.

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The public continued to support him throughout. But at the same time, some politically risky moves — like revamping expensive entitlement reforms — got tossed aside. His liberal base would have blown up, and during an impeachment process retaining your base is critical for survival.

In the same way, Trump may now be even more inclined to tend to his conservative base to avoid flaming tensions that might weaken his standing, damaging prospects for a bipartisan gun deal. His Twitter feed and regular comments to the media make clear this is not someone looking for a bipartisan group hug on the White House lawn.

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As a result, proponents of more gun control might have to go back to the political drawing board and try to keep up the pressure and defeat their opponents at the ballot box next year to truly change the law.

Doing that, in the midst of the constant Trump media storm, will be their greatest political challenge.

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