Story Highlights• Last major gun laws were 1993 Brady bill and 1994 assault weapons ban
• Those who oppose gun control vote based on that issue
• Those in favor don't vote the issue, so politicians stay away from it
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is the Virginia Tech tragedy likely to put gun control on the political agenda? Don't bet on it. In recent years, gun control has been an issue most politicians prefer to stay away from.
The last significant gun control measures to make it through Congress were the Brady bill in 1993 and the assault weapons ban in 1994.
And what happened? Democrats lost control of Congress for 12 years. President Clinton said the gun lobby had a lot to do with his party's defeat. Democrats have been gun-shy ever since. (Watch why it is considered easy and simple to buy a gun in Virginia )
Then-Vice President Al Gore rarely talked about gun control during the 2000 presidential campaign. Gore even went so far as to say he wouldn't restrict sportsmen or hunters, "None of my proposals would have any effect on hunters or sportsmen or people who use rifles."
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential candidate, went hunting during his campaign. He defended 2nd Amendment rights said during a campaign debate, saying, "I will protect the Second Amendment. I always have and I always will."
Nevertheless, the National Rifle Association ran an ad railing against Kerry and Gore's stance on gun rights. "John Kerry, you are not fooling America's gun owners," the ad stated. "They know you voted against their gun rights for 20 years. So now you're running away from your record, just like Al Gore did."
This year, former New York City mayor and current Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, a longtime supporter of gun control, says the matter should be left to the states. Polls show the public supports gun control. Why don't the politicians get with the people?
Support for gun control dropping
Public support for stricter gun laws has been declining since the 1990s, according to the Gallup Poll. In January 2007, the number of people who supported stricter gun laws was at 49 percent, less than a majority for the first time since at least 1990.
Why such a decline? It seems related to the steady drop in the nation's violent crime rate since 1994. After a shocking incident like the one at Virginia Tech, public anger over gun violence rises. So does support for gun control measures. (Watch the what the statistics say about gun laws and crime )
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, issued a statement saying, "I believe this will re-ignite the dormant effort to pass common-sense gun regulations in this nation.''
But public anger is not usually sustained very long, whereas gun owners remember every gun control vote as a threat to their rights. Gun owners vote the issue. Supporters of gun control typically don't. So politicians believe they will pay a price at the polls if they support new guns laws, even when most voters agree with them. When it comes to public opinion, intensity matters. Not just numbers.