New Gun-Control Laws Are Unlikely

While much remains unclear about the Colorado theater shooting, it is likely to reinvigorate the debate over gun law. In Colorado, people are allowed to have handguns in their cars, businesses, and homes, according to the Colorado State Patrol. Steve Eder has details on The News Hub. Photo: AP.

The Aurora, Colo., shooting spree will fuel fresh calls for gun control, but changes in laws are unlikely, partly because of a lack of support for new measures in Congress and among the public at large, people on both sides of the debate said Friday.

“I think very little will happen because our political leaders are so afraid of the gun lobby,” said Tom Mauser, who became a gun-control advocate after his 15-year-old son, Daniel, was killed in the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, about 16 miles from the site of Friday’s incident.

The politicians, he said, “will be tiptoeing around it and saying how tragic it is.”

Since Columbine, Colorado’s laws have undergone two significant changes. Background checks are now required for guns purchased at gun shows, and the process for getting a concealed-weapons permit has been streamlined.

The National Rifle Association said its “thoughts and prayers are with the victims” in Aurora, and it wouldn’t have further comment until all the facts are known.

Colorado’s gun laws are seen as being middle-of-the road, less restrictive than those in New York or Massachusetts, where there are bans on assault weapons, but more restrictive than those in states like Texas, which is known for being gun-friendly, said Scott Moss, an associate professor at University of Colorado Law School.

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“There is certainly a mix in Colorado of folks who value freedom to own and transport guns, largely in the more rural areas, and then folks in the Denver-Boulder urban corridor whose views would be closer to a New York or Chicago,” Mr. Moss said.

Kristin Goss, an associate professor at Duke University who has researched the politics of gun control, said there was little chance of significant policy changes as result of the shootings. “If there’s going to be anything, it’ll be a technical solution that doesn’t include politically radioactive words like ‘ban.’ “

Last year, two months after an Arizona gunman let loose a cascade of bullets that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, President Barack Obama called for “common sense” action on gun control. He has said almost nothing about it since then, but the Justice Department said Friday it has tweaked its system to make background checks more thorough and complete.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said his group interpreted Mr. Obama’s statement as suggesting more-aggressive background checks.

But there has been no movement in Congress and no visible support from the Obama administration for requiring checks by private sellers at gun shows, on the Internet and elsewhere. “It comes down to political calculus, and it’s deemed however inaccurately by Democrats not to be a winning issue,” Mr. Gross said.

White House officials noted there was little support in Congress for new laws. Lawmakers would not, for instance, agree to renew an assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004. Mr. Obama’s challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, signed a permanent assault-weapons ban into law as Massachusetts governor in 2004, but now opposes any new gun laws.

On Friday, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, offered words of comfort to those affected by Friday’s rampage in Aurora. That was not enough for some, including New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who called on them to offer specifics for battling guns.

“Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country,” he said. “I mean, there are so many murders with guns every day, it’s just got to stop.”

A Gallup poll last fall found, for the first time, majority opposition to a ban on semiautomatic guns or assault rifles, with 53% opposed and 43% supportive. In 1996, when the question was first asked, 57% of Americansbacked a ban.

The Gallup survey also found a record-low 26% of Americans favoring a ban on possession of handguns in the U.S. other than by police and other authorized people. It also found 47% of adults reporting that they currently have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property, the highest level since 1993.

Dudley Brown, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, said Friday’s massacre reinforced the importance of giving citizens the right to carry guns in public places.

—Daniel Gilbert contributed to this article.

A version of this article appeared July 20, 2012, on page A2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: New Gun-Control Laws Are Unlikely.