Stewart M. Powell,Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Houston Chronicle
Sunday, April 19, 2009
(04-19) 04:00 PDT Washington - --
The last time a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress banned civilian sales of some types of military-style assault weapons, it took American voters barely seven weeks to hand Republicans control of Capitol Hill for the first time in 40 years.
That lesson wasn't lost on President Obama when he faced pressure from Mexican President Felipe Calderon to revive the defunct weapons ban to help combat drug cartel violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In Mexico last week, Obama insisted he had "not backed off" his campaign promise to make the expired ban permanent. But he bowed to political reality, nonetheless.
"None of us are under any illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy," Obama said. "And so, what we've focused on is how we can improve our enforcement of existing laws."
Politicians and experts agreed Obama had no choice but to resist Mexican officials' entreaties. He couldn't win a battle in Congress to resurrect the ban.
"We've reached a point where there aren't many people who will stick their political necks out to vote for sensible gun control," says Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second ranking Democrat in the Senate leadership.
Earlier this year, the Democratic-led Senate dealt a body blow to the gun control movement, when 22 Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joined 40 Republicans to shelve firearms restrictions in the nation's capital.
Merely hinting at renewal of the assault weapons ban provoked 65 House Democrats, many from swing districts, to warn the Obama administration that they would "actively oppose" any revival.
Democratic Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus of Montana - a bellwether Western state carried by Obama - warned they would "strongly oppose any legislation that will infringe upon the rights of individual gun owners."
Added to that, Obama risked squandering political capital and distracting attention from pressing domestic issues such as economic revival, overhauling the financial system and health care reform.
Not even prominent Democratic calls for resurrecting the ban in the wake of the slayings of four police officers in Oakland and three police officers in Pittsburgh could budge the new president.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Senate author of the 1994 assault weapons ban, said on CBS' "60 Minutes" on April 12 that she has no intention of reintroducing the assault weapons ban - for now. Eventually, Feinstein said, "I'll pick the time and the place, no question about it."
The latest nationwide polls show "little evidence that gun control is at the moment a high priority for Americans," says the Gallup Poll's "Pulse of Democracy."
Barely 49 percent of those surveyed said they wanted tighter laws governing firearms sales - the lowest percentage since 1990.
Americans remain evenly divided on whether to make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess assault rifles.
"There's a realization on Capitol Hill that the 1994 law was ineffective," says Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association. "The logical question is why should we resurrect a law that was ... ineffective?"
Even gun control advocates are focusing on achieving other changes rather than reviving the ban. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence wants background checks required on all gun sales including those at gun shows.
"The laws on the books aren't getting the job done," says Paul Helmke, the president.
Obama's stance in Mexico represented a U-turn.
He backed the ban during his presidential campaign. His transition team listed "making the expired federal assault weapons ban permanent" a goal of the administration.
"I believe we need to renew - not roll back - this commonsense gun law," Obama told the Chicago Tribune during his Senate campaign in 2004 when the assault weapons ban was expiring.
samD notes: It sounds good but be ever vigilant, we can't let our guard down!
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