President seeks to revive gun reform momentum

President Obama hugs a gun control activist after delivering remarks on common-sense measures to protect children from gun violence at the White House March...
President Obama hugs a gun control activist after delivering remarks on common-sense measures to protect children from gun violence at the White House March...

President Barack Obama is traveling to Denver on Wednesday to meet with Colorado law enforcement and community leaders in an effort to revive flagging national support for gun reform. The trip comes 109 days after America’s worst gun tragedy claimed the lives of 20 young children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., and fueled unprecedented demands for national gun reform.

Gun control advocates say that, despite some early setbacks, they are preparing for a long struggle, expecting victory not necessarily now but after Congress’ next mid-term elections.

“No one is going to hand us this,” Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told msnbc. “Everybody knew this would be a very tough battle,” said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, told msnbc.

The gun lobby also seemed to be digging in for a long fight. On Tuesday, a paid consultant of the National Rifle Association, former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson, who leads an NRA task force, made recommendations for school safety including providing training for armed guards. At the same time, the gun lobby is actively opposing pending federal gun control legislation.

The initial surge of support to change America’s gun policies already appears to be waning. In Congress, a handful of gun control measures have passed a key Senate committee, but the NRA and Republican Senate leaders are working to try to water them down before any reach a full vote, Senate aides in both major parties told msnbc. Across the nation, the number of Americans favoring more restrictive gun laws fell from a majority and 10-year-high in December after the Newtown tragedy to a minority in recent weeks, according to two national polls.

President Obama began speaking out again in favor of gun reform last week.

“Now it is time to turn that heartbreak into something real,” said President Obama Thursday in the East Room of White House, flanked by teachers, mother and other victims of gun violence. “It won’t solve every problem,” he added.” But we can make a difference if not just the activists here on this stage but the general public –including responsible gun owners—say, you know what, we can do better than this.”

White House advisers chose Denver for the president to speak this week on gun violence, as Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed landmark gun control measures last week into law. Similar to several federal bills pending in the Senate, Colorado’s new gun laws require background checks for both private and online gun sales, put the burden for paying for the checks on gun buyers, and ban ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds.

A few other states seem to be following suit. Legislative leaders in Connecticut announced Monday that they had agreed on gun control measures that, if passed, would be among the strongest in the nation. The measures would include universal background checks, and an expansion of Connecticut’s existing ban on military-style “assault weapons.”

But the Connecticut legislation would go even further, requiring residents to obtain new state-issued eligibility certificates in advance of any purchase of a gun or ammunition. A number of other states like New Jersey require similar, vetted registration in advance of buying firearms or handgun ammunition. The NRA has long considered any registration of gun owners to be a violation of the Second Amendment.

NRA officials in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

A CBS News poll conducted last week showed 47% of Americans favor stricter gun control measures, down from a high of 57% after the Newtown shooting. A CNN poll the week before showed 43% of Americans favor stricter measures. Neither poll asked individuals whether they supported or opposed more specific gun control measures.

The legislation pending in the Senate includes bills requiring universal background checks, making gun trafficking a federal crime, and banning military-style semi-automatic or “assault” weapons and high-capacity magazines. Senators will return from spring recess next week. Lobbyists and legislative leaders are wrangling over which bills, including any modifications, would survive a vote of at least 60 Senators to avoid a filibuster and make it to a vote on the floor.

“We want these votes. We want to get people on record.” Everitt told msnbc. “You’re not going to undo 35 years of damage done by the NRA in three months,” he added. Instead, Everitt said his group wants to get votes on the record now to be able to target legislators who vote against gun reform in the mid-term congressional elections in 2014.

Last week, New York Major and gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg began a campaign in several states to target Senators to pass the bill requiring universal background checks for all gun purchases, a measure that 88% of Americans, including 85%t of gun owners support, according to a poll early last month by Quinnipiac University.