- President Obama has largely avoided the subject while in office
- Gun control advocate: Obama "has shown a lack of leadership in standing up to the gun lobby"
- White House spokespeople have been consistently vague when pressed on gun rights
- Obama has been repeatedly attacked by the National Rifle Association, a gun rights group
In a speech after the Colorado shooting Friday, President Barack Obama asked Americans to pray, reflect and remember what's important in life while the city of Aurora mourned the dead and wounded.
"If there's anything to take away from this tragedy it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it's not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives," Obama said in Fort Myers, Florida, before returning to the White House.
But Friday's shootings are likely to propel the issue of gun rights and gun safety into the national conversation again, even though the president did not address it on Friday and has largely avoided the subject while in office.
Daniel Vice, senior attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, criticized Obama on Friday for steering clear of the issue in office.
"President Obama has refused to even talk about guns. In a speech today he didn't even say the word 'gun.' The closest he came was 'gunman,' " Vice said. "Unfortunately the president has shown a lack of leadership in standing up to the gun lobby."
Talk of gun rights was largely absent from Obama's speech in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting in 2009 and after then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot in Tucson, Arizona, last year. Obama mentioned gun safety only in passing after the Tucson shootings to describe the polarizing nature of the issue.
However, amid renewed discussions, the president penned an opinion piece two months after the Tucson shootings that acknowledged the importance of the Second Amendment and called for a "focus" on "effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place."
The president's three-step plan included enforcing existing laws, rewarding states that provide the best data about gun owners and a better system for background checks.
"Clearly, there's more we can do to prevent gun violence," he wrote in the Arizona Daily Star. "But I want this to at least be the beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people."
But he did not go as far as he had on the campaign trail in 2008. As a candidate for president he adamantly declared he would not "take away your guns," while supporting a platform that included reinstituting the assault weapons ban, stopping destruction of background check documents and closing the federal gun show loophole.
"If you've got a riffle, you got a shotgun, you've got a gun in your house, I'm not taking it away," Obama said in Pennsylvania in September 2008 after stressing the importance of "common-sense gun safety measures."
Gun safety advocates have expressed disappointment with the president's actions since taking office, particularly over his failure to fight for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. They pointed out Obama signed bills into law that allowed loaded weapons in some national parks and on Amtrak trains and the destruction of background check documents.
Advocates at the Brady Campaign said the only step he took to support their cause was backing a rule requiring gun dealers who sell multiple rifles to individuals along the border with Mexico to report the sales to law enforcement.
But they acknowledged their task is particularly difficult when the head of the Nation Rife Association, Wayne LaPierre, repeatedly attacks the president for working against the Second Amendment.
"Obama has already signed on to destroy the Second Amendment and our freedom," LaPierre said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. "(He has) endorsed a total ban on manufacture, sale and possession of all handguns."
White House spokespeople have been consistently vague when pressed on gun rights by members of the media. When asked Friday if the president would take steps to curb gun violence in the form of gun safety laws after the Aurora shootings, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "The president believes that we need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights of Americans, while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get them."
"There has been progress in that regard in terms of improving the volume of quality of information in background check, but I have nothing new," Carney added.
In July 2011, Carney said the president directed Attorney General Eric Holder and state leaders to identify measures that would improve safety and protect Second Amendment rights.
"We expect to have some more specific announcements in the near future," Carney said. But no announcements have been issued.
Gun rights continue to divide Americans. A Pew survey released in April showed 49% of Americans found it more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns, while 45% said it was more important to control gun ownership. The figures shifted when broken down by party ideology, race and sex. Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said it is more important to protect gun rights, while 72% of Republicans said the same. Sixty percent of men found it more important to protect gun rights and 39% of women found it more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns.
Divides also exist among campaign contributions, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission, which show an influx of cash disproportionately geared toward Republican candidates.
In the 2012 cycle, presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney has received $126,440 from gun rights groups, compared to Obama's $2,300. That trend is consistent with the 2008 cycle, when Sen. John McCain collected $483,711 in such contributions and Obama received $25,987.