Will Chuck Schumer go back to his gun-control roots?

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Schumer with Clinton in 1993. ()
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Senator Chuck Schumer's statement on the tragedy in Connecticut today wasn't the clarion call issued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but it did suggest that he sees an opportunity for political action.

“The horror of what happened is beyond words and leaves a permanent lump in your throat," Schumer said in the statement. "To senselessly lose so many innocent lives breaks your heart. ... Perhaps an awful tragedy like this will bring us together so we can do what it takes to prevent this horror from being repeated again."

Schumer helped bring members of Congress together in the early 1990s as an aggressive champion in the House of the Brady Bill and the assault-weapons ban, which he helped to author.

But Schumer, like the rest of his party, has been much quieter on the issue since those bills passed, and a number of marginal Democrats blamed their subsequent losses on their gun control votes. (Democrats mustered 111 co-sponsors in the House to renew the assault weapons ban in 2003, but the bill died in committee. A bill to reintroduce the ban in 2005 had 97 co-sponsors; by 2007, it was down to 67 co-sponsors.)

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There have been flashes of the old Schumer over the years. In 2009, he helped block an amendment in the Senate that would have forced states to recognize concealed-carry permits from other states, a measure that was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association.

But the primary objective has been to maintain the status quo, with as little politically charged discussion as possible.

“One of the reasons there’s less impetus for gun control is the success we had in the ’90s,” he told me shortly after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January of 2011. “The Brady Law is one of the most successful laws that has been passed.” 

That was several tragedies ago now, and today's attack on an elementary school, which killed more than 20 children, was particularly horrific.

Whether it can lead to the kind of "meaningful action" that President Obama called for, in a tearful response this afternoon, could depend on whether former gun-control leaders like Schumer, who doesn't trifle with losing causes, see an opportunity to pass legislation.

Passing a bill would mean forcing some of his fellow Democratics in the Senate, several of whom represent decidedly red states, to take a tough vote that would inevitably provoke the N.R.A.

(It would also likely mean Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who barely won re-election two years ago in pro-gun Nevada, would have to put a dent in his own N.R.A. rating—a "B" in 2010—to allow legislation to move.) 

Schumer is scheduled to be a guest on "Face the Nation" on Sunday.