The nation's latest mass shooting has revived debate over its patchwork of gun laws. But advocates on both sides of the issue expect that public shock and outrage over the killing of 12 people at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater will do little to shift momentum in statehouses and on Capitol Hill toward harsher restrictions on firearms.
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have stayed silent on the issue of gun control since shooting suspect James E. Holmes allegedly unloaded several guns, including an AR-15 military-style assault rifle on a crowd gathered to watch the movie “Dark Night Rises.” And few lawmakers, including Democrats who have long supported tightening gun restrictions, have spoken out against current policy.
That's because advocates of gun control are realizing they can't compete with a powerful gun lobby that has helped shift public opinion in recent years towards looser regulations, reports Reuters. To do so could alienate voters.
"We're in the summer before a presidential election and I really don't foresee any serious discussion of gun control," Duke University's Kristin Gosss, the author of "Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America,” told Reuters on Saturday (July 21).
The National Rifle Association (NRA), according to the news agency, took in some $253 million from supporters in 2010. That's more than 42 times the revenue raised by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the nation's largest pro-gun control group.
As Stateline has reported, state lawmakers this year have worked to scale back gun restrictions, even after the February shooting of Florida Teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, which shined a spotlight on states' controversial “stand your ground laws” for self defense. And anti-gun control bills also proliferated in 2011 following the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson.
This year, Oklahoma and Virginia were among several state battlegrounds for the debate. Oklahoma legislators passed a bill allowing gun owners to openly carry their weapons in public, while Virginia repealed a law that blocked residents from buying more than one gun per month. South Dakota lawmakers voted to eliminate permitting requirements to carry concealed weapons, although the governor vetoed the bill.
In Colorado this session, the largely Republican House passed an NRA-backed bill that would have eliminated requirements for background checks before firearms could be purchased at a gun show, but the bill stalled in the Democrat-led Senate, according to Bloomberg. Voters had approved the amendment requiring background checks after legislators chose not to tighten gun laws in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
Colorado is one of several states that do not ban military-styled assault rifles such as the one Holmes allegedly used in the killings, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. A shotgun and Glock also used in the attack appear to have been purchased legally over several months, according to media reports, as were the 6,000 rounds of ammunition purchased over the Internet. Most Colorado residents above the age of 21 can carry a concealed weapon, and the state has no registration laws or specific waiting period.
It appears unlikely that Governor John Hickenlooper will work to make Colorado's gun laws any stricter. “This wasn't a Colorado problem, this is a human problem, right?” the governor said Sunday in an interview on CNN's “State of the Nation.”
"I worry that if we got rid all of the guns, and certainly we have so many guns in this country…[the shooter] would have found explosives, he would have found something else, some sort of poisonous gas, he would have done something to create this horror."