Continued from page 1

“It was a much more vocal and much more passionate expression from that camp,” he said. “In 1999, the NRA endorsed expanding background checks, and Republicans overwhelmingly voted for it, including myself, on the House floor. And now everybody’s hair is on fire about it. And I think it’s just the polarization that explains it.”

Another problem for gun control advocates is that despite renewed interest after the school shooting rampage that left 20 children and six faculty members dead, the public still doesn’t consider gun control a top issue.

In a recent Fox News poll, it was fifth, below the economy and jobs, the federal deficit, terrorism and health care, when voters were asked what issue Congress and the president should be addressing.

“When you’re dealing with policy that’s emotional, the time to act is always shorter than policymakers think it is,” said John Hudak, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies gun policy and presidential power.

Support for any new gun control law dipped to 49 percent in a USA Today poll this week — down from 58 percent in December, just after the shootings.

“People adjust to certain policies in certain ways,” Mr. Hudak said. “They also adjust to the status quo.”