Vice President Joseph R. Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other gun control advocates insisted Wednesday that both momentum and public opinion are on their side, but recent polling shows Americans turning against stricter laws as more time elapses since the Newtown shootings.
Mr. Biden rallied gun control advocates ahead of a “day of action” organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, telling supporters that bans on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are “just the beginning.”
“Let me say this as clearly as I can: this is just the beginning,” he said on a conference call organized by the group, which is co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “We believe that weapons of war have no place on our streets. That’s the message that retired admirals and generals have spoken to us about. The comment one of them used was if you want to learn how to use a semiautomatic weapon, join the United States military. But these are weapons of war.”
President Obama is also scheduled to host mothers, victims of gun violence, law enforcement officials and others at an event at the White House on Thursday, and Brina Milikowski of MAIG said the group has more than 140 events planned in at least 29 states.
“The most important thing we can do in the lead-up to the vote in Congress in a couple weeks is to make our voices heard,” Ms. Milikowski said. “We know that Congress is paying attention — not just to the polls and to the news, but also to grass-roots events and mobile initiatives showing overwhelming support among Americans for common-sense public safety measures.”
But despite the proclamations, White House spokesman Josh Earnest struck a much more cautious tone Wednesday, saying the mere fact that the Senate will be voting on an assault weapons ban is a step in the right direction.
“I think because of all the talk of the president and because of his aggressive advocacy of this issue, there will be a vote in the United States Senate on whether or not military-style assault weapons will be banned from the streets of this country,” Mr. Earnest said. “I think that is — that represents progress.”
Though surveys show that a sizable majority of Americans continue to support individual measures like universal background checks, a new CBS News poll shows that only 47 percent of Americans support stricter gun control laws, compared to a high of 57 percent right after the December shootings in Connecticut. Further, a CNN poll from last week showed 43 percent of Americans support “major restrictions” or a complete ban on guns — down from 52 percent in December.
National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said such numbers show people realize that “gun control is not the answer to reducing crime or trying to make sure the horrific shootings like what happened in Connecticut and Colorado don’t happen again.”
“I think they understand and they agree with the NRA that in order to reduce crime and reduce the instances of mass shootings, we need to fix our broken mental health system, we need to increase prosecutions of our violent crimes and we need to provide a blanket of security for children in our schools,” Mr. Arulanandam said.
A gradual decline in support for stricter gun laws also occurred in the wake of other recent mass shootings. According to Gallup, two-thirds of Americans supported stricter gun laws in April 1999, right after the Columbine school shootings in Colorado. By December, that number had dropped to 60 percent, and it sat at 51 percent by October 2002.
The same number actually decreased from 56 percent in October 2006 to 51 percent in October 2007 — a time period that included the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007.
But Mrs. Pelosi said gun control advocates have not lost momentum this time.
“I’ve been to a number of states since this Congress has gone in and many parts of different states and the public is so far ahead of the Congress on this subject,” the California Democrat said Wednesday. “I believe whatever passes in the Congress now will not be the end of the day for this issue.”
Mrs. Pelosi said that if a ban on so-called assault weapons does not pass, it would create an even greater impetus for Congress to approve strong legislation on universal background checks. She added that members voted for the ban that passed in 1994 knowing it would cost them their seats, but that they said later it was worth it if it saves lives.
“This is a very big deal for the public,” she said. “But again, it’s a legislative body, and we have to go forward as boldly as we possibly can, and I would not say, well, if the assault weapon ban isn’t there that that means less is going to happen down the road. I think it means more should happen up the road as we go forward.””