Despite virtually no legislation on gun control and little hope for a breakthrough, President Obama made clear this week he still sees the issue as a top priority in his second term, publicly chastising lawmakers and gun-rights advocates and telling them they “should be ashamed” of U.S. firearms laws.
The passionate statements — delivered unexpectedly as Mr. Obama was discussing the cost of college with Tumblr founder David Karp on Tuesday — underscore how much political capital the president is willing to invest in the issue. He even called the failure to pass gun legislation the biggest frustration of his presidency thus far.
But by his own admission, any restrictions on guns have little or no shot of becoming law in the current environment, despite the best efforts of Mr. Obama’s allies in Congress.
Underscoring the intense resistance to any gun-control measure, the president’s statements Tuesday — in which he praised Australia for banning virtually all long-barrel weapons — quickly became fodder for pro-Second Amendment groups.
“This week President Obama stated publicly his admiration for Australia’s compulsory gun-confiscation program. The picture below is what that gun grab looked like,” the National Association for Gun Rights wrote on its Facebook page, complete with a picture of piles of long guns seized by the Australian government through mandatory buyback programs.
The Facebook post is further proof the relationship between powerful gun-advocacy groups and Mr. Obama, never strong to begin with, now has degenerated into public antagonism.
During his question-and-answer session Tuesday, the president took direct aim at the National Rifle Association for blocking efforts to strengthen background-check requirements for gun purchases.
The effort, which enjoys a small level of bipartisan support, was launched in the aftermath of the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It quickly fizzled out after failing in the Senate, and Mr. Obama has made clear he blames the gun lobby and its power over lawmakers for the failure.
“Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no other advanced, developed country on earth that would put up with this,” he said Tuesday. “And most members of Congress — and I have to say, to some degree this is bipartisan — are terrified of the NRA.”
Despite the failure to pass gun control and poor prospects for the future, the continuing wave of high-profile shootings has kept the issue in the spotlight. Just this week, one student was fatally shot at an Oregon high school before the gunman took his own life.
On Sunday, police say, a Las Vegas couple killed two officers and another man. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and a key supporter of Mr. Obama’s gun-control agenda, quickly used the incident to again push for tighter background checks.
“We here in Congress have a duty to put into place legislation that helps prevent deranged individuals from carrying out such savage acts of violence,” he said Monday on the Senate floor. “Universal background checks would be a good start.”
But gun-advocacy groups continue to tell candidates and lawmakers they’ll pay a price for supporting further background checks.
On the heels of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary election loss Tuesday to tea party candidate David Brat, some gun-advocacy groups hinted the result in the Virginia contest partly is because of Mr. Cantor’s recent support for a bill to increase funding for background checks.
“Gun Owners of America blanketed the district with phone calls to registered voters, hitting Cantor for his recent vote to expand gun control and noting that Brat stands 100 percent for the right to keep and bear arms,” Gun Owners of America said on its website after the election was called for Mr. Brat.
Late last month, Mr. Cantor voted to increase funding for the FBI’s Instant Criminal Background Check System by nearly $20 million.
Mr. Cantor’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.