Washington (CNN) - A moved President Barack Obama on Friday appeared to promise to tackle gun violence in his second term, speaking just hours after a gunman left 20 students and six adults dead at a Connecticut elementary school.
But supporters of tighter gun control measures want to see more: specifics on his call for the country to “come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
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The call, which he repeated on Saturday in his weekly address, was for action on an issue that has not been a priority for his administration.
As a candidate in 2008, Obama supported reinstating the assault weapon legislation that expired in 2004. Among other restrictions, the law limited the ammunition magazine capacity of these heavy-duty rifles.
But a renewal fell by the wayside, and the president received a dismal review from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the most visible gun-control advocacy groups.
“President Obama’s first-year record on gun violence prevention has been an abject failure,” the group wrote in a 2010 report, adding, “his campaign promises have gone unfulfilled and a year’s worth of opportunities to bring sanity to the gun issue have been lost.”
Should he want to bring forward legislation now, Obama faces a major obstacle: Congress. Even the Democratic-controlled Senate has shown little appetite to touch the controversial issue.
Multiple gun control bills have been introduced in recent years, but not a single one has advanced to a floor vote.
Gun-control advocates say if there ever was an urgency to push for tough new legislation, it is in the wake of Friday’s attack in Connecticut.
Images of terrified children, grief-stricken parents and a quiet community rocked by violence have been splashed across front pages and screens. Obama will visit Newtown, Connecticut, Sunday evening and will speak at an interfaith vigil for the families, the White House said late Saturday.
“This time what I saw was different, that politicians (who) usually don’t talk about it were talking about it,” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat from New York, said in an interview with CNN. “Maybe the pendulum is turning and the country is ready to get serious about this issue.”
She lost her husband in a 1993 mass shooting that killed five others and severely injured her son.
McCarthy said she and others who have been touched by this violence should make their voices heard.
“I know it’s a sensitive area, but I, who certainly suffered losing my husband and having my son certainly injured severely, I have the right to speak about it,” she said. “And other victims have the right to speak about it.”
Those involved in the debate over guns say the president has several options.
He could advocate reinstating the assault weapons ban, the expired measure from 1994, or pursue similar measures such as banning high-count magazines.
Or he could approach the issue from a different direction, urging improvements to mental-health reporting that would disqualify unhealthy individuals from purchasing firearms.
Polls have shown that support for strengthened gun restrictions has remained largely unchanged in the wake of past mass shootings. A CNN/ORC International poll conducted in August - weeks after the mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado – found limited support for either no restrictions on firearms or making all guns illegal.
Thirty-seven percent of American adults supported minor restrictions on gun ownership, while 38% supported major restrictions. One in 10 favored making all guns illegal, and 13% favored no restrictions.
Since Friday’s shooting, some have said the time for debating gun law reforms is too soon, as it would appear to politicize the issue.
“I think that is a conversation I'm going to have with my colleagues and today I'm not going to discuss it out of respect to the families,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, told CNN on Saturday. “But I'm going to go to Washington and I'm going to raise this issue, and I think it's time for the conversation to be renewed, for the dialogue to begin again, and for the Senate to consider whether that type of action is necessary.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, urged the president to be more specific.
"Calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough. We need immediate action,” he said in a Friday statement. “We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership - not from the White House and not from Congress."
He was one of the first to criticize Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over their gun-policy stances in the wake of the Aurora shooting, which left 12 people dead and 58 wounded, and a separate shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
McCarthy urged Obama to use his podium to advocate for legislation which might bring an end to these tragedies.
“Let's face it,” she said, “we need to have the president as the bully pulpit on trying to get something done.”