At several critical moments over his first term, President Obama pledged to use the power of his office to curb shooting rampages in this country and gun-related cross-border violence, but he exerted little to no muscle to follow through on his promises.
Mr. Obama’s record on gun control faces new scrutiny after his call for action in the wake of Friday’s Newtown, Conn., school shooting, which advocates of new restrictions on gun ownership say should be a wake-up call for Congress and the White House to act.
During the president’s first visit to Mexico in April 2009, Mr. Obama tried to prove that the U.S. was serious about reining in guns and ammunition flowing to Mexico, which Mexican officials contended was fueling the cross-border gang violence of the bloody drug trade.
After a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Mr. Obama announced his support for a long-stalled inter-American weapons treaty and said he would urge the Senate to ratify it.
The regional treaty, adopted by the Organization of American States, was signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1997 but never ratified in the Senate.
Mr. Obama at the time pledged to revive efforts to ratify the treaty “to curb small-arms trafficking that is a source of so many of the weapons used in this drug war.”
But the headline came and passed without a tangible push from the White House to urge the Senate to take up the treaty. It remains unratified.
Later that year, after the mass shootings by a U.S. Army major at Fort Hood, Texas, Mr. Obama grieved with victims and their families.
“This is a time of war, and yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle,” he said. “They were killed here, on American soil in the heart of this great American community.”
But Mr. Obama’s eloquent words and delivery did not lead to any major changes in administration policy on mental health services or inspire a national debate on gun violence.
In January 2011, after the shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., that took the lives of six people and wounded then U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and 12 others, Mr. Obama got more specific, promising to launch a national discussion on gun violence to put an end to the slaying of innocent civilians.
In an op-ed column Mr. Obama penned for the Arizona Daily Star in March 2011, the president used some of the same language he did during remarks at a Sunday night vigil for families of victims of the Newtown shootings.
“As long as those whose lives are shattered by gun violence don’t get to look away and move on, neither can we,” Mr. Obama wrote at the time. “We owe the victims of the tragedy in Tucson and the countless less unheralded tragedies each year nothing less than our best efforts — to seek consensus, to prevent future bloodshed, to forge a nation worthy of our children’s futures.”
During the Sunday night vigil in Newtown, Mr. Obama vowed to use “whatever power this office holds” in efforts to prevent “more tragedies like this.”
“Because what choice do we have?” Mr. Obama asked rhetorically. “We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?”