When he ran for reelection in 2012, Barack Obama never talked about gun control. That’s almost hard to remember now, after Newtown transformed Obama and he spent massive political capital trying to make Congress act on comprehensive reform. While Obama has since pledged not to even campaign for Democrats who don’t support gun-control legislation, his speech at the Democratic convention in Charlotte four years ago never alluded to gun violence.
This was no small feat, considering mass acts of gun violence shook the country throughout the summer of 2012. After the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting in July killed 12 people and wounded scores more, Obama said only that he wanted “to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction—not just of gun violence, but violence at every level, on every step, looking at everything we can do to reduce violence.” He proposed no new gun reforms.
Less than a month later, when six people were shot and killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Obama again declined to make gun safety a campaign issue. Reporters asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney if the president wanted new laws, and Carney essentially said no. “We need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights and make it harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining weapons,” he replied.
The upcoming presidential election will be dramatically different, as dueling speeches from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton this past weekend demonstrated. Like few other elections before it, 2016 will feature gun control as a huge and explosive issue.
Clinton spoke at the Trayvon Martin Foundation on Saturday after meeting with 60 mothers who lost children to gun violence. “At long last, we must do something about the gun violence that stalks communities and terrorizes families. And this is on the minds of every one of us here tonight, as we remember all of the young people who have been lost,” Clinton said. “This problem isn’t going away.”
For months, Hillary Clinton has made guns a central theme of her campaign. One of every four television ads she ran in New Hampshire were about gun control. She has regularly met with victims of gun violence, particularly mothers, and unveiled a comprehensive gun-control plan last October. This is the toughest stance of any Democratic candidate since at least Bill Clinton in 1996, who invited James and Sarah Brady to speak in prime time at the DNC, though Hillary’s proposed reforms are much more far-reaching.