By Jonathan D. Salant
WASHINGTON — President Obama may have a limited time to rally public opinion as he pushes Congress to enact new restrictions on gun ownership.
Opinion polls show public support for new gun laws increases after mass shootings only to diminish over time, complicating efforts to use the outrage over last month's killing of 20 children and 6 adults at a Connecticut elementary school to introduce a package of actions to ban military-style assault weapons and require background checks on all gun buyers.
A December Gallup poll taken after the shootings in Newtown showed 58 percent calling for stricter gun laws, up from 43 percent support in October 2011. The National Rifle Association has opposed any new gun laws, calling instead for armed guards at schools. Obama must keep reaching out to the public if he hopes to pass any legislation, said Tom Diaz, who served as a Democratic House Judiciary Committee aide in 1994 when Congress banned assault weapons.
"There's one word that explains it: leadership," said Diaz, the author of two books on guns. "It's fireside chats. It's really holding people's feet to the fire."
A task force led by Vice President Joe Biden is drafting proposals, to be delivered to the president by tomorrow, and lawmakers have introduced legislation in the new Congress. Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky say lawmakers' priority will be tackling spending as Congress considers raising the nation's debt ceiling.
"In a slow-moving legislative process like the U.S. Congress's, opponents of change know that they need merely wait as public attention turns to the next big agenda item, and often momentum will fade," said Rogan Kersh, provost at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.