Is America irreversibly pro-gun?

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CBS/iStockphoto

On Sunday, the country marked 100 days since a man wielding a semiautomatic Bushmaster assault rifle killed 20 young children and 6 faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Just days earlier, on March 19, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that he would not include a ban on military-style assault weapons - like the rifle used by the killer at Sandy Hook - in the Senate's upcoming gun bill and would focus instead on other gun laws that stood a better chance of passage. Disappointed supporters of the ban mostly moved on, fixing their sights on lower-hanging fruit.

The proposal most likely to make its way to the president's desk is a bill strengthening penalties for illegal gun trafficking. Beyond that, the lift gets much heavier. The biggest prize for gun control advocates is a national background check system for gun purchases. But after talks on the issue between Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., broke down in recent weeks, even that proposal, which enjoys 90 percent support in the latest CBS News poll, will be difficult to enact.

And the even more dramatic steps of banning certain types of guns or limiting the number of bullets in ammunition magazines? At this point, the strategy for pushing those proposals through Congress falls somewhere between a hope and a prayer.

Thursday, President Obama will host law enforcement groups and gun violence victims for an event at the White House to gin up greater support for his proposed gun control measures. But the president's continued attention to the issue may be telling in and of itself - yet more evidence that the urgency surround the issue, the public attention paid to it, is flagging.

The receding memory of tragedy, the rising tide of gridlock - it's a confluence of inertia that yields a question, painful for some, elating for others: If Congress cannot summon the support for stronger gun control laws in the wake of the worst mass shooting in recent history, can real gun control ever happen in America? And if not now, when?

In short: is America irreversibly pro-gun?

If you ask the gun lobby, the answer is a resounding yes. "America's 100 million gun owners will not back down, not ever," said the CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre during a speech before the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month. Americans' tradition of firearm ownership is not something to be addressed or curtailed, gun rights advocates say, it's something to be celebrated. And it's certainly not going anywhere, they promise, despite the attempts by gun control supporters to "exploit" gun tragedies for political ends.

Mark Glaze, the Executive Director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, disagrees. Glaze's group, formed by New York City Michael Bloomberg to mobilize popular support and pressure lawmakers on behalf of stronger gun laws, has positioned itself as the counterweight to pro-gun interest groups like the National Rifle Association, which has vehemently opposed any move to tighten the nation's gun laws.

Before Newtown, Glaze said in an interview with CBSNews.com, the NRA was "the only show in town." But after that tragedy, he argued, "You have a number of new players with a lot of passion and a lot of money who are dedicated to making sure that the NRA isn't the only organization making itself heard as we have this once-in a generation debate."

But as polls gauging their support seem to slip by the day, Glaze's group has its work cut out for them.

The popularity of stronger gun control seemed to soar in the weeks following the tragedy in Newtown: in December, just after the shootings, 57 percent of respondents in a CBS News poll said gun control laws should be more strict. Fast forward three months, and that number dropped to 47 percent in another CBS News poll released on Monday. In April 2012, before the shooting in Newtown and before a July shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., claimed 12 lives, only 39 percent of Americans supported stricter gun laws. In short, broader support for gun control can emerge, but never in a sustained fashion - one problem that vexes gun control advocates.