P.K. Weis/AFP/Getty Images
Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, seen in May, is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. Gun control advocates are demanding tighter policies following the January shooting in Tucson.
Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, seen in May, is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. Gun control advocates are demanding tighter policies following the January shooting in Tucson. P.K. Weis/AFP/Getty Images
Six months after Jared Loughner fired a fusillade of shots into a crowd of people in Tucson, Ariz., gun control advocates are asking why there has been no change to the policies that let him buy and carry a semi-automatic weapon without a permit.
Even the staunchest gun control activists suppressed their disappointment when President Obama skirted the issue during his speech in Tucson four days after the shooting, which left six people dead and more than a dozen wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
After all, it was a memorial service, not a political event. But the State of the Union address came a few weeks later, and Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was frustrated.
"The president mentioned [Gifford's] empty chair, mentioned the families, mentioned the dreams of the little girl that wouldn't come to fruition, and then five paragraphs later he's talking about the stock market," Helmke said. "And if someone had been on a desert island they would've thought, 'Gee, did space aliens take the congresswoman away? Was there some weird disease that swept through Arizona?' It was an opportunity that was missed."
Pressure built on the White House to say something about guns.
In March, the president wrote an op-ed column in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper.
In a classic Obama turn-of-phrase, he called on Americans to "get beyond wedge issues and stale political debates to find a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place."
Since then, there has been near silence from the White House on the issue.
A group of city mayors called Mayors Against Illegal Guns is sending a critical letter to the president Friday.
"We know that the White House is doing a serious policy review being conducted by serious people, and we have no reason not to take them at their word that they want to get to the right solution and make a difference," Mark Glaze, the group's director, said. "But the fact that we're now six months out, there's not been a single step from the White House, there's not been a single congressional hearing on Tucson or the policy problems that made it possible, is not encouraging."
Glaze says there are steps the president could take that would make a difference now, without waiting for Congress to act.
For example, military and federal agencies are required to report people with mental health and drug problems to the criminal background check system, but they often don't. That's something gun control advocates say the president could fix.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that the administration has a working group looking at these issues.
"That process is well under way at the Department of Justice with stakeholders on all sides working through these complex issues, and we expect to have some more specific announcements in the near future," he said.
There could be another reason for the White House's inaction: In this political season, President Obama needs every swing state voter he can get, including gun owners.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York attends a news conference on gun control, in Washington on Jan. 18.
Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York attends a news conference on gun control, in Washington on Jan. 18. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
"Bill Clinton himself said that the issue cost Democrats the House of Representatives in 1994 and cost them the presidency in 2000," said Dave Kopel, research director at the libertarian think tank the Independence Institute.
"The appropriate lesson drawn by Democratic political strategists would be twice burned thrice careful," he said.
The National Rifle Association echoes that warning.
Public Affairs Director Andrew Arulanandam says existing gun laws are sufficient, and his group is ready for a hard-fought campaign against those who feel otherwise.
"We will make sure that every voter, every gun owner, every hunter knows exactly where the president stands on guns and whoever the candidate is on the Republican side, too," he said.
One of the staunchest gun control advocates in Congress is New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York. A gunman killed her husband and wounded her son on the Long Island Railroad almost 20 years ago.
"I have spoken to the president. He is with me on it, and it's just going to be when that opportunity comes forward that we're going to be able to go forward," she said.
Since the Giffords shooting, McCarthy has introduced two major gun control bills that have gone nowhere, but she says she's patient.
It's not just guns, she says, an awful lot of things have not been getting done in Washington.