WASHINGTON — As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Mark Udall was sometimes an ally of gun-control organizations. The Boulder Democrat once voted to impose a three-day waiting period on those seeking to buy a firearm at a gun show. The amendment, attached to a juvenile justice bill, also drew the support of Rep. Diana L. DeGette, a Denver Democrat known as one of the most reliable gun-control advocates in Congress.
Udall’s vote was cast in June 1999, less than two months after the shooting tragedy at Columbine High School, in which 12 people were killed. This Wednesday, President Obama spoke about the need for some gun control less than a week after the shooting tragedy in Aurora, in which 12 people were killed.
“These steps shouldn’t be controversial,” Obama said in New Orleans, referring to measures that would impose a criminal background check at gun shows and prevent criminals, fugitives, and the severely mentally ill from buying firearms. “They should be common sense.”
Obama’s remarks signaled the administration’s tack to the left. Four days earlier, White House press secretary Jay Carney indicated Obama would not propose any new gun-related bills. “The president’s view is that we can steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should have them under existing law,” Carney told reporters. “That’s his focus right now.”
Now a U.S. Senator, Udall did not follow the president’s path. He has not spoken in favor of or revealed interest in new gun restrictions. Asked to speak about his 1999 vote and Obama’s remarks, a Udall spokeswoman Audrey D. Nicoleau said “(w)e respectfully decline this request.”
Udall’s perceived tack away from gun-control has disappointed some of his his former allies.
Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine, is a spokesman for Colorado Ceasefire, a Denver-based gun-control organization. Mauser said he met with Udall’s staff in Washington recently to ask the senator to endorse a pledge that guns should be kept out of the hands of criminals, the mentally deranged, and terrorists. “It’s now three months later, and he still hasn’t signed it,” Mauser said in an interview. “Senator Udall’s office told me he didn’t sign pledges. It took them three months to tell me.”
A voice mail and email message to Udall’s office were not returned.
Michael Bennet has also refrained from calling for new gun restrictions in the wake of the Aurora massacre. “This tragedy is sure to instigate a full-throated debate of our gun laws,” Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi said in a prepared statement. “That debate and any subsequent review of our gun laws should be informed by a full accounting of the facts related to the shooting, which are still emerging. “This week, as we continue the healing process and try to comprehend everything that’s happened, we should focus on the victims, their families and the heroes who have come to their aid.”
As senators, Udall and Bennet have voted to allow concealed weapons in national parks and to accept another state’s concealed-carry law even if the law is lax. And their ratings from the National Rifle Association, the nation’s premier gun-rights organization, are similar. Udall received a grade of C, Bennet a C+.
After vice-president Al Gore lost in 2000, many Democratic leaders concluded that Gore’s support for gun restrictions damaged his showing among rural voters, costing him the election. In 2006, Senate Democratic leaders recruited pro-gun candidates, including Jon Tester in Montana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.
Brian Malte, director of legislative affairs at the Brady Campaign, a gun-control organization, said the power of gun rights advocacy groups like the NRA is over-hyped and fails to explain Democratic senators’ reluctance to support more aggressive curbs on gun rights.
“The NRA’s track record in recent elections isn’t great,” he said, noting the decline of conservative blue-dog Democrats in Midwestern and southern congressional seats.
Malte believes the problem is a lack of political courage, not just from Udall and Bennet but from Washington politicians more generally. “We’ve been disappointed with their voting records. We think it’s time for the senators to exert leadership on this issue, especially after what happened in Aurora.”