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Will Obama lead on guns?

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WASHINGTON -- There is no way that I am going to predict that outrage over the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School will lead to more gun control -- even as President Barack Obama on Friday pledged "meaningful action" in the wake of another tragedy.

What does it take? So far, not Columbine, Colo., in 1999. Not the Washington, D.C., snipers in 2002. Not Virginia Tech in 2007. Not Northern Illinois University in 2008. Not former Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011. Not Aurora, Colo., last July. Not the Sikh Temple near Milwaukee last August. Not the ongoing gun violence back home in Chicago.

If a lawmaker getting shot in the head does not prompt the White House and Congress to act, what will?

You see, Obama has never been a leader when it comes to gun control. Not while a state senator, or U.S. senator from Illinois, as president and candidate for a second term. Gun control -- ever contentious, divisive and polarizing -- was never an issue Obama wanted to embrace.

That's why Obama's call to take "meaningful action" may have some significance -- now that Obama never has to stand for election again.

Gun control foes know that the attention moves on after people are gunned down and all they have to do is wait.

As the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence noted Friday, "If the pattern holds," elected officials, soon after offering sympathies, "will immediately retreat into silence and refuse to engage in any meaningful debate about America's catastrophically flawed gun laws, which directly facilitate one gun massacre after the next."

The group called on Obama "to be a leader in this process and to speak out boldly and directly."

Obama rarely has made gun control any priority. Last October, during the second presidential debate, the one with the town hall format, Obama was asked by a woman, "during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?"

Obama did not have much to offer in reply at that debate because he never pushed hard to renew a federal assault weapons ban. At that debate, Obama called for doing more to enforce the laws on the books, said background checks have improved and offered that in the future, he would like an assault weapons ban.

"And 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. Because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there's an awful lot of violence and they're not using AK-47s. They're using cheap handguns," Obama told the woman.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said "we were moved by President Obama's raw emotion during his remarks today. We are committed to working with him to channel it into the change that is too long overdue."

Obama is going to be pressured mainly by his fellow Democrats, since, the reality is, gun control is more of an issue for Democrats than Republicans.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) is one of the top gun control advocates in Congress, running after her husband was murdered and son injured when a shooter opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train in 1993.

"Leaders in Washington from both parties, and groups like the NRA, all say that now is not the time to talk about how gun safety laws can save lives in America. I agree, now is not the time to talk about gun laws -- the time for that conversation was long before all those kids in Connecticut died today," McCarthy said in a statement.

McCarthy said she and others will seek to hold Obama to his pledge. "I hope the President's words about taking 'meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics' stay true as we continue down this road again."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 15, 2012 8:52 AM.

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