In the wake of last week's shooting in Colorado, many on the left are resurrecting their cries for more strict gun control laws in America, yet one of their fiercest advocates of the past has been oddly silent. President Barack Obama has long been one of the gun control lobby's favorite politicians, but now as he faces a tight general election this fall, he's suddenly shying away from a key issue he previously used to make a name for himself in politics:
In the midst of his first run for national office in 1999, then-state Senator Barack Obama held a rally at the Park Manor Christian Church to draw attention to the epidemic of gun violence in his home city of Chicago.
At the time, Obama was launching a primary election challenge against Congressman Bobby Rush and it was something of a professional prerequisite that he have a hard line on guns. He chose the church because, as he noted, an 84-year-old woman had recently been killed nearby when young men invaded her home believing she had won the lottery.
"Community residents throughout the 1st Congressional District are tired of violence and death," Obama told the Chicago Independent Bulletin at the time.
Among the prescriptions Obama put forward that day, according to a Dec. 13, 1999 Chicago Defender article, were increasing penalties for the interstate transportation of firearms, increasing the federal tax on the sale of firearms, requiring federally licensed gun dealers to sell firearms in their storefront, restricting gun purchases to one a month, increasing school funding for anger management programs, banning the sale of firearms at gun shows except for "antiques," and increasing licensing fees.
But the fact that President Obama isn't talking about gun control now shouldn't come as a surprise. In fact, the president has gradually decreased his interest in the issue to expand his voter base:
Obama lost that primary. But as he won later elections and moved up the national political ranks, gun policy would become less of a focus. Part of it was a byproduct of the offices he occupied: being the young, rising politician requires deference to elder statesmen.
But gun control advocates tell another story as well. The president has shied away from the gun debate, they said, out of political expedience. The Obama who spoke at that church rally isn't the same politician who chose soft-touch responses to the mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz., and, most recently, in Aurora, Colo.
"There is no question he's softened on the issue," said Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor who focused on the unwillingness of Democrats to take on the gun lobby in his new book, "A Nation of Wusses."