In Newtown shooting's wake, divisions remain over gun control

Prior to the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, both political sides in Washington have been silent on the issue of gun control.
CBS News

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - When President Obama addressed the nation about the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, he seemed visibly upset at the White House Friday:

"As a country we have been through this too many times. Whether it's an elementary school in Newt-Newton, a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics."

The president was no more specific about what he meant by "meaningful action." But for some Americans, it means taking a look at gun control. And the issue is just as contentious as ever.

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In Lafayette Park Friday night, across from the White House, a small group of pro-gun control demonstrators held a candlelight vigil.

But on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, there was near silence on the issue.

Both the Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, and the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, called Friday's tragedy "unspeakable," but made no mention of the guns used to carry out the brutal act.

Gun control, an issue so hotly debated in the '90s, is rarely discussed seriously Friday. The ban on assault weapons was allowed to lapse in 2004.

In 2009, Congress passed a law making it easier to carry guns in national parks, and the president signed it.

After July's massacre in Aurora, Colorado, President Obama said AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not criminals. But he did not propose any gun legislation, and that allowed the Speaker to duck the issue too.

"I'm not the expert on this," said Boehner, "but if the president's got ideas, I'd be happy to look at it."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted both men Friday. "We need immediate action," wrote the gun control advocate. "We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership -- not from the White House and not from Congress."

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to gun control is that Democrats are on one side and Republicans are on the other. But there are plenty of Democrats from rural states, western states, and southern states who also balked at gun control. We asked the National Rifle Association for a reaction to Friday's shooting and they said they'll have no comment until all the facts are known.

On whether the nature of the crime and the age of the victims might create debate in Washington to push legislation, it's possible. But many people thought that would happen after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, this summer, and after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with so many others more than a year ago. But that didn't happen. In fact, congressional leaders and the president Friday were so reluctant to bring up this issue, that their aides said today was not the day to discuss it. That infuriated gun control advocates who said, 'If today isn't the day, what is?'

  • Nancy Cordes
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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.