9:41 am Jul. 23, 2012
On Sunday morning, while Chuck Schumer was holding a press conference on the rising rates of whooping cough, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on "Face the Nation" talking about guns.
"You know, we spend all our time talking about tax returns, and gaffes, and things like that," Bloomberg told host Bob Schieffer. "This is one of those issues, along with a handful of others, that really matter to the American public. It matters to the future of our country, it matters to you and me and to our children and grandchildren. And it's time I think that we hold them accountable and say, 'Okay, you want our votes? What are you going to do?'"
At one time, it might have been Schumer seizing the moment, less than three days after a gunman opened fire on a Colorado theater, to prompt a national conversation about gun control. As a Brooklyn congressman, Schumer made a national name for himself helping steer the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban through the House in 1994. But Democrats were swept out of office that year, and as they slowly clawed their way back to the majority, they did it, in part, by forsaking gun control and thereby avoiding the ire of the N.R.A.
On Sunday only a couple of Democrats braved the morning shows to press the issue, including Representative Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
McCarthy pointed to one thing all the recent high-profile shootings had in common.
"There's one thing that they all have in common, they had a gun with large magazines so they could take down many people," said McCarthy, who was elected in 1994 after her husband was killed by a rampaging shooter on the Long Island Railroad.
McCarthy had introduced legislation to ban such extended magazines after the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in January of last year—one of very few bills offered in response to the shooting—but McCarthy's bill never moved.
"The thing of it is, as a politician, a lot of politicians know it's the right thing to try to fight for something to save lives," McCarthy said. "They don't have a spine anymore. They pander to who's giving them money."
She said her colleagues were unduly scared by the memory of 1994.
"Everybody kind of forgets about that time in history," she said. "We also raised taxes. So there was a lot of things going on. I personally don't think that members that lost that following year actually lost because of the gun issue. Myself and several other people were elected the following year on the gun issue. So I think that there's a lot of myths out there as far as that goes."
But the idea of the gun lobby's invincibility seems very real to most other Democrats at the moment.
On "Meet the Press," Bob Shrum, the longtime Democratic adviser, recalled being on the phone with Tom Foley, Dick Gephardt, and Bill Clinton in 1994 when Democrats were pushing the bill McCarthy referred to.
"Foley and Gephardt said to him, 'Look, this is going to cost us a lot of Democratic seats in the midterms,'" Shrum recalled. "And it did. The numbers have gotten worse since then. The situation has gotten worse. You can't even get the Congress to prohibit people who are on the terrorist watch list from buying weapons."
Feinstein, noting that the killer was carrying an AR-15 style assault rifle, tried to make the case for renewing the ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004.
"Weapons of war don’t belong on the streets," she said. "I have no problem with people being licensed buying a firearm but these are weapons that you are only going to be using to kill people in close combat. That is the purpose of that weapon."
Bloomberg, an independent who is arguably now a higher-profile advocate for gun control than any elected Democrat and who has plans to use his money to set up a counterweight to the N.R.A. when he leaves office, had pointed out that both of the major presidential candidates once publicly supported such a ban. Mitt Romney had helped pass a state ban as governor of Massachusetts, and Barack Obama, as a candidate in 2008, had talked about the need to renew the ban.
"The governor has apparently changed his views, and the president has spent the last three years trying to avoid the issue - or if he's facing it, I don't know anybody that's seen him face it. It's time for both of them to be called, held accountable," said Bloomberg.
Neither Mitt Romney nor the president has given any indication that the Colorado shooting has affected their positions on gun control.