Gun control: Can Obama use Colorado bully pulpit to accomplish anything?

President Obama is pushing gun control in Denver Wednesday and will do the same in Hartford, Conn., next Monday. It's not clear he can move the public to pressure Congress on gun legislation, but it's worth a try, some say.

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

President Obama travels to Colorado Wednesday to push for gun control, and to Connecticut next Monday for another such event – both aimed at getting Americans to pressure Congress to act on gun legislation.

Each state has witnessed some of the most horrific mass shootings in US history – two of them in Colorado – and has enacted (in the case of Colorado), or is about to enact (in the case of Connecticut), stricter limits on access to firearms and ammunition.

“It’s now been just over 100 days since the murder of 20 innocent children and six brave educators in Newtown, Conn., shocked this country into doing something to protect our kids,” Mr. Obama plans to say in Denver, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the White House.

“But consider this: Over those 100 days or so, more than 100 times as many Americans have fallen victim to gun violence. More than 2,000 of our fellow citizens, struck down, often just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And every day we wait to do something about it, even more are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”

The event in Denver and next week’s in Hartford, Conn., follow last Thursday's emotional plea for action on guns by Obama, flanked by the mothers of young victims, at the White House. The president rejected criticism that he had allowed public support for more gun control to wane as memories of the Newtown massacre have faded. Though his actions that day, and since, suggest otherwise.

Still, the jury is out as to whether this bully-pulpit campaign will help or hurt the president in his ultimate goal: to enact new federal restrictions on access to firearms and ammunition in the name of reducing gun violence.

As public support for more gun control flags, the only hope of rebuilding that support is for the president to take action, suggests Harry Enten, a blogger at the Guardian who focuses on policy and public opinion.

“Gun control has gone nowhere in Congress, while the president was saying little,” Mr. Enten wrote last week. “Nationally, public will on the issue is fading. The situation for gun control advocates could hardly be worse, in fact.

“The flipside, though, is that by speaking, Obama can engage and activate a public that is still firmly in favor of background checks. He just might be able to change the dynamic and make politicians recognize that, politically, they are on the wrong side of the issue.”

Obama’s original hope for new gun control included a renewed ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. And while he insists he hasn’t given up on those aspects, he is now placing more emphasis on expanding background checks for gun buyers – a measure for which public support is still above 80 percent.

But there’s a potential downside to the president’s renewed campaign on gun control: By putting himself out there so publicly on the issue, he risks stirring up and strengthening opposition, Enten adds.

“The president could simply polarize the debate even more,” he writes. “This campaign may make red state Democrats even more squeamish, and will almost certainly make the Republican-controlled House even less likely to move towards more regulation.”

Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer expressed confidence Wednesday that gun legislation would make it through Congress.

"People here in Washington may be getting cold feet," Mr. Pfeiffer told Mike Allen at a Politico “Playbook” breakfast. But, "I think on a whole host of issues Washington tends to be a lagging indicator on public opinion."

He added that he was “still very optimistic” that a bill would reach the president’s desk.

"Are we going to get every single Democrat’s vote? Absolutely not," he said. Pfeiffer acknowledged that Republicans could block the legislation, though they would face “significant consequences,” including potentially losing control of the House.

On Capitol Hill, aides to Senate Republicans complain that Obama could be doing more to reach out to key lawmakers, including Democrats from Republican states who are up for reelection next year, according to press reports. Democrats need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

The White House rejects such criticism.

“We remain engaged in conversations with the Senate and those senators who are interested in forging a bipartisan compromise on measures to reduce gun violence,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday.

Next week, Obama will have dinner with Senate Republicans, the second such dinner in recent weeks, as part of his “charm offensive” to warm up relations with lawmakers. 

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