Attorney General Eric Holder was busy announcing the capture of more than 50 alleged members of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel yesterday when he unwittingly stepped into a larger debate about gun control.
Responding to a reporter's question on weapons' regulations, Holder said, "Well, as President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons. I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum."
Holder refused to speculate when legislation would move forward.
"There are obviously a number of things that are -- that have been taking up a substantial amount of [Obama's] time, and so, I'm not sure exactly what the sequencing will be," he said.
Gun rights groups seized on the comments.
"I think there are a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill cringing at Eric Holder's comments right now," Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association, told ABC News.
Lending credence to LaPierre's claims, The Hill reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to Holder's remarks during her weekly press conference by stating, "On that score, I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now. I think it's clear the Bush administration didn't do that."
Pelosi's comments reflect the fact that Democrats may not now want a fight over gun regulations with so many other matters on the president's agenda.
Yet there is a reservoir of support for stricter gun control within Holder's party. Last week, over 50 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to President Obama urging him to enforce a ban on importing assault weapons, citing rising gun violence in Mexico. The Sinaloa Cartel, which Holder was discussing at yesterday's press conference, is involved in drug and weapons trafficking in the U.S. and Mexico.
The assault weapons ban outlawed the purchase of military-style firearms such as AK-47s and Uzis. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, with a clause requiring congressional reauthorization after ten years. Congress allowed the legislation to expire in 2004.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama sought to strike a delicate balance on the issue of gun rights.
He pledged to make the assault weapons ban permanent, promised to push for childproofing guns and said he wanted to close the gun show loophole, which permits sales of firearms at gun shows without requiring a background check.
But in mailers to sportsmen, the Obama campaign tried to make those positions more palatable to gun rights supporters, writing that Mr. Obama believed individuals had a constitutional right to bear arms. The mailers also stated that Mr. Obama would protect the rights of hunters and other Americans "to purchase, own, transport, and use guns."
This is not the first time that Holder has voiced support for tighter restrictions. In his confirmation hearings, Holder said he supported closing the loophole, banning cop killer bullets, and making the ban on assault weapons permanent.
Holder was confirmed by a vote of 75-21. Some Republicans refused to support him because of what they characterized as his hostility to gun owners' rights and lack of support for the war on terror.