WASHINGTON -- The White House has so far declined to weigh in on possible legislative responses to the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., this Friday.
But in a briefing with reporters who were travelling with President Barack Obama as he met with the victims and their families in Colorado on Sunday, Press Secretary Jay Carney signaled that the administration would tackle issues of gun violence within the confines of current legislation.
"I would say that the president's views on this are as he has stated and as he spelled out in the op-ed that was published in an Arizona newspaper," said Carney, "which is that he believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons."
"The president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law," he added later. "And that's his focus right now."
Carney mentioned "existing law" three times in all over the course of the briefing. The comments didn't preclude the possibility of the administration pursuing new legislative fixes to current gun laws, though in a follow up email to The Huffington Post, Carney noted that he "said nothing about proposed or hypothetical legislation."
But the repeated citation of "existing law" did suggest that both the White House and the Department of Justice will look to close current loopholes -- whether on background checks or coordination between federal and state authorities -- rather than focus on new bills. Asked at one point about the prospect of a renewed push for an assault weapons ban, Carney agreed with the questioner that "there has been opposition to that since it expired within Congress" in 2004.
If the reaction to the 2011 shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) serves as a guide, there will likely to be little political appetite to pursue new gun policy in the wake of the Aurora shootings. Back then, lawmakers made a push to limit high-capacity magazines that allows a shooter to fire 30-plus rounds without having to reload. The president proposed more limited changes in an Arizona Daily Star op-ed.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the main senator behind a stalled bill to restrict high-capacity magazines, has pledged to push it again. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the more vocal proponents of gun control in the country, has urged both Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney to outline their proposals to deal with the issue of gun violence. But those two individuals and their allies are likely to be outnumbered by the lawmakers who are more eager to maintain the status quo.