As with other mass shootings, Friday's killings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., trigger a familiar chain of reactions: horror, remorse, rage and a call for new restrictions on guns.
And in the recent past, at least, that call for action has been followed by little or no legislative action at all.
For example, after the January 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead and 13 others injured, President Barack Obama delivered a moving nationally televised address but a call for new gun laws was conspicuous in its absence.
Instead, in an Arizona Daily Star op-ed he repeated his support for the Second Amendment and called for stricter enforcement of gun laws that are already on the books. That stance perfectly matches the position of the National Rifle Association, the nation's leading gun owners' advocacy group. But if NRA leaders were pleased, they are not about to show it.
Quite the opposite, there are too many votes to be won, money to be raised and news members to be enlisted by tagging Obama as "anti-gun" for the NRA or other gun lobbyists to be deterred by mere facts.
Remember the dramatic surge in gun and ammunition sales that immediately followed Obama's election? They're surging again, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group, as owners fear the weapons won't be available if Obama is re-elected.
"He's his own stimulus plan for the gun industry," said Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, according to Politico.
Fear of what Obama might do is being fed by NRA leaders like Wayne LaPierre, who warned in February that Obama's plan is to "get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom."
The organization's 2008 website, gunbanobama.com, is up and running with its headline, "Obama Would Be The Most Anti-Gun President in History" and a link touting, "If Obama Is Pro-Gun, Why Are Leading Anti-Gun and Anti-Hunting Groups Endorsing Him?"
One might just as easily ask, if Obama is so anti-gun, why did one of those endorsers, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, give Obama an "F" for his gun record the following year? The Brady Campaign and other gun control advocates continue to express frustration over actions and inaction by Obama that should bring the NRA delight.
Obama has signed a law that permits Amtrak passengers to carry guns in their checked baggage and another that allows visitors to national parks and wildlife refuges to possess concealed guns. He has not pushed for actions he supported in his 2008 campaign, including closing the so-called "gun show loophole" that allows unlicensed private firearm sellers to sell weapons at gun shows without conducting the background checks and reporting required of registered gun dealers.
Yet the NRA, which went after Obama with a $40 million advertising and direct-mail campaign last time around, has set aside at least that much for this go-round, Politico reports. Their biggest hot-button issue is Fast and Furious, the Republican-promoted controversy in which Obama invoked executive privilege to block the disclosure of some Justice Department documents to a House committee involving a botched gun-running investigation. If the operation was really part of an Obama plot to ban guns, as some of his critics charge, it would be a far-fetched way to do it.
In this way, the NRA, which likes to call itself the nation's oldest "oldest continuously operating civil rights organization," exhibits one of the worst attributes that critics often attribute to conventional civil rights organizations: manufactured outrage. If they don't have a real enemy of gun rights in the White House, they hammer the administration with inflated accusations and unfounded predictions anyway.
But activist gun owners tend to come from the same demographic that gives the least support to Obama: older white men from rural or outer suburban communities. Even unfounded accusations carry convincing weight with people who already are inclined to believe them.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com.(c) 2012 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.