Following the deadly school shooting at aNewtown,Conn., elementary school, President Obama may now be poised to push for new gun control measures after keeping relatively quiet about the issue during his first term.
In an emotional statement from the White House on Friday, Obama said the violent massacre — the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history — instilled “overwhelming grief” and heartache, and that the country has “endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.”
“We have been through this too many times, whether it’s an elementary school inNewtownor a shopping mall inOregonor a temple inWisconsinor a movie theater inAuroraor a street corner inChicago,” he said of the other mass shootings in the past year alone.
“These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
The statement is a subtle but marked shift for Obama, who has not made gun control a priority during his presidency in spite of at least five major mass shootings that have occurred on his watch — Binghamton, N.Y. (2009); Fort Hood, Texas (2009); Tucson, Ariz. (2011); Aurora, Colo. (2012); and Oak Creek, Wisc. (2012).
The White House has said that Obama cannot act alone and that there is little appetite in Congress to enact new gun laws. Obama had also been seen as loathe to revive a public gun debate ahead of the 2012 election campaign.
But with the latest tragedy, the tide may be turning.
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, public figures and activists wasted little time Friday amping up pressure on the administration, including a hastily organized protest outside the White House gates.
“The country needs [Obama] to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement after theNewtownattack.
“Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action,” he said. “We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress.”
Former Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was shot inTucsonlast year, called on lawmakers and the president to “stand up and do what is right.”
“This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence,” he said in a statement on Facebook. “This can no longer wait.”
Obama signaled in October during the second presidential debate that he is ready to take new action on gun control, including reintroduction of an assault weapons ban.
A 10-year federal ban on the sale of some semi-automatic weapons — dubbed “assault” weapons — expired in 2004 and has not been renewed despite several attempts. Obama in 2008 said he would push for renewal in his first term, but that effort never materialized.
“Weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets,” Obama said inHempstead,N.Y., on Oct. 16. “So what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced, but part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence.”
The president has not mentioned gun control in any of his State of the Union addresses, including the 2011 address just days after theTucsonshooting. Meanwhile, his administration has expanded gun rights in some areas, allowing possession in national parks and on Amtrak. He has also backed off a 2008 campaign pledge to push for permanent reinstatement of the expired assault weapons ban.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit advcoacy group, in 2010 awarded Obama an “F” on gun control, citing “extraordinary silence and passivity.”