Gun control: Did Obama let the moment pass?

While polls show a shift in US attitudes, President Obama is insisting, 100 days after the massacre in Newtown, Ct., that it's not too late to get gun control legislation through Congress.

Susan Walsh/AP
President Barack Obama urges Congress to take action on measures to protect children from gun violence, Thursday, March 28, 2013, while speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Has the moment passed for tighter gun restrictions?

President Obama himself raised that question Thursday at a White House event aimed at revitalizing the prospects for legislation, 100 days after a Connecticut elementary school massacre that shocked the nation.

Flanked by families affected by gun violence, the president made an emotional plea for action and insisted it’s not too late.

“The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened at Newtown happens, and we’ve moved on to other things?” he said. “That’s not who we are.”

Next Wednesday, Obama will travel to Colorado to highlight the state’s new laws requiring universal background checks for gun buyers and a ban on ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds. Colorado has seen two of the deadliest shootings in US history – one last July in Aurora, the other at Columbine High School in 1999.

There are certainly signs that momentum toward significant gun legislation has slipped since Newtown. In a CBS News poll out Monday, 47 percent of respondents said gun control laws should be more strict, down from 57 percent right after the Newtown massacre. According to Politico, the National Rifle Association is enjoying record fundraising, which translates into more donations to politicians.

In the Senate, a growing roster of Republicans is ready to filibuster legislation. On Thursday, two senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, joined three others – Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and Ted Cruz of Texas – in signing a letter threatening to filibuster any bill with new restrictions on guns.

But there are other ways to look at public opinion. A broadly worded question about making gun control laws “more strict” clearly raises concerns with a lot of Americans, but a narrowly tailored question can produce a markedly different result. In January, a Quinnipiac poll found 92 percent of voters, including 91 percent of gun-owning households, support background checks on all gun buyers. A CBS-New York Times poll in January produced the same result.

Obama homed in on this point on Thursday. “Think about that,” he said. “How often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything?”

Senators working on a compromise on background checks reached an impasse three weeks ago, but their staffs are talking again, the New York Daily News reports. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York told the paper he expects to meet with Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma before the Senate returns from recess April 8.

At issue is whether records of private gun sales must be kept. Senator Schumer is insisting on it. Senator Coburn rejects the idea. Gun-control advocates say background checks would be unenforceable without record-keeping. Gun-rights supporters say that record-keeping could lead to a national registry of gun-owners, and potentially, confiscation.

Still, given public opinion on the issue, some analysts predict that a tightening of the background check system has a chance of passing.

“Expansion of background checks is the piece that has the most public support, so we’ll get something there,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“Clearly, background checks on private sales between family members or neighbors that requires record-keeping is not going to get any support, but closing the gun-show loophole does.”

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