Despite his calls for greater gun control, including a new assault weapons ban that extends to handguns, President Obama's administration has turned away from enforcing gun laws, cutting weapons prosecutions some 40 percent since a high of about 11,000 under former President Bush.
"If you are not going to enforce the laws on the books, then don't start talking about a whole new wave of new laws," said a gun rights advocate.
In the wake of the horrific mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Democratic lawmakers have begun preparing a new collection of anti-gun laws, including renewing the assault weapons ban, banning the purchase of high-capacity clips that spring bullets into guns, and tightening rules on who can buy weapons.
Lawmakers are banking that the public will push for new gun controls. But as with other mass shootings, polls find the public split, and blaming the shooter, not the gun. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press on Monday found that public is evenly divided over whether the Newtown shootings reflect broader problems in American society, 47 percent, or are just the acts of troubled individuals, 44 percent.
Figures collected by Syracuse University's TRAC project, the authority on prosecutions from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, shows that the administration has reduced the focus on gun crimes and instead steered prosecutors and investigators to drug crimes.
According to an October 2011 TRAC report, "There also has been a shifting emphasis towards drug-related investigations. Since ATF-referred prosecutions peaked in FY 2005, the number of weapons prosecutions actually has fallen by 32 percent, a much higher rate than for ATF prosecutions overall. Making up the difference has been the growing number of drug cases, up by 26 percent during the same period."
In 2011, the Obama gun prosecutions hit a low for the decade, but there has been a slight uptick in prosecutions this year, said another TRAC report.
Second Amendment advocates said on background that they expect Obama to press ATF to boost prosecutions and use the Sandy Hook case, and other mass shootings, to move gun control to the top of his second term agenda. "It's in his DNA to push this issue," said one gun-rights official, speaking on background. "This would be his crowning achievement, if he can ban guns," added the official.