Gun control has been a nonissue in the presidential race—and in Congress for the past four years. The recent shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Oak Creek, Wis., are not going to change that.
After the Aurora incident, when a gunman invaded a crowded movie theater and started shooting, killing 12 people, the Pew Research Center found that the public’s opinions on gun control had not moved an inch. Survey respondents were split evenly down the middle, with 46 percent saying it was more important to protect the right to own guns and 47 percent saying it was more important to control gun ownership. Those percentages have been stable, with just a few points movement in one direction or the other, since 2009.
What’s more, gun control is not considered a vote-changing issue. In another Pew survey, conducted in April, less than half of likely voters (47 percent) said that gun control would be a “very important” factor in their voting decision this year. That’s way down on the list of election-deciding issues. The numbers for the economy and jobs among the same group of respondents bumped up at 90 percent. The budget deficit, health care, and education hovered around 75 percent.
President Obama and Mitt Romney have been almost silent on the issue of guns. Both expressed condolences to the loved ones of those killed in Aurora and Oak Creek. And both steered clear of any solid policy recommendations.
White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated Obama’s longtime support for an assault-weapons ban but noted that Congress still has no appetite for such legislation. Obama has not wasted any political capital on the issue since he was elected.
Romney, as Massachusetts governor, signed a permanent assault-weapons ban in 2004, but he has since steered clear of the topic.
The candidates’ lack of enthusiasm can be partly attributed to partisanship. People who favor gun-ownership rights tend to vote Republican, and they dislike Obama’s position so much that they will cast their ballots for any alternative. Gun-owner advocates are doing Romney’s work for him.
John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, said that Obama “is the most antigun president ever.” He described the administration’s “coordinated effort” to restrict gun ownership, extending through the Justice Department, with the failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation along the U.S.-Mexico border, and as far as the United Nations, which has been debating an international treaty to govern the export of weapons.
On the other side of the issue, gun-control advocates are annoyed at the president’s lackluster performance. They credit the National Rifle Association with instilling so much fear in elected officials that they shrink from taking tough stances on guns.
“We haven’t seen a lot of courage” from Romney or Obama, said Ladd Everitt,
communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “They’re both the kind of guys that have blown with the political winds.”