Gun Control Debate Reignited in the Wake of Connecticut School Massacre

Gun control advocates press for legislative action following deadly shooting.

President Barack Obama wipes his eye as he speaks about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington.

President Barack Obama wipes his eye as he speaks about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Friday at the White House.

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President Barack Obama gave hope to gun control advocates that he may back efforts for reforms in the wake of Friday's deadly elementary school massacre that left 20 children dead.

Obama, who has left gun issues untouched during his first four years, has presided over a series of deadly shooting sprees but indicated during remarks from the White House he is ready to move forward on that front.

[PHOTOS: Deadly Connecticut School Shooting]

"As a country we have been through this too many times, whether it's an elementary school in Newton or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theatre 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 to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics," said Obama, who at times had to pause during his statement to wipe tears from his eyes.

While experts say calls for increased gun regulation frequently follow public tragedies only to be quickly forgotten, the current circumstances may lead to a different outcome.

"Aside from the fact that the president doesn't have to face re-election, is I think that there's growing momentum among some key groups to not let people off the hook so easily," says Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

[READ: Are Mass Shootings A Fact of Life in America?]

And groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence have also moved away from pushing for all-out bans in favor of more piecemeal reforms because of a series of Supreme Court decisions finding them unconstitutional, Webster says.

[AP SOURCE: Shooter Drove to Mother's School]

Anti-gun groups planned rallies outside the White House on Friday evening.

Webster says polling data shows widespread support for reforms such as requiring background checks for all single gun sales.

"There's a very broad consensus that we don't want dangerous people to have guns and that we should put in reasonable measures to do so," he says.

But there remain powerful political obstacles, Webster adds.

"[The National Rifle Association] almost an undetachable base for the Republican Party, so I think it's going to be hard on that front," he says. "Even though you will have Republicans who probably will agree that this is a common-sense thing to do, I think it's going to be hard to buck that the way the party is currently structured."

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, issued a statement calling the "horror" of the day "unbearable" and vowed to assist those affected, but stopped well short of the president's call for legislative action.

[MORE: Congress Calls Connecticut Shooting 'Massacre,' 'Senseless Tragedy']

"We will lock arms and unite as citizens, for that is how Americans rise above unspeakable evil," he said. "Let us all come together in God's grace to pray for the families of the victims, that they may find some comfort and peace amid such suffering. Let us give thanks for all those who helped get people to safety, and take heart from their example."

No major federal gun control laws have passed since the 1994 assault weapons ban under the Clinton administration and a Democratically-controlled Congress. That measure lapsed in 2004 under Republican President George W. Bush and was not renewed. Webster says many Democrats attributed their colossal legislative losses in the 1994 mid-term election to the gun control efforts and have since shied away from taking on pro-gun advocates.

The NRA, one of the most powerful lobbying forces, through its unwavering opposition to most anti-gun proposals, has also successfully shaped the debate into a binary argument – pro-gun or anti-gun, Webster says, adding that is also a convenient narrative for the media to follow. And that's made achieving gun reforms harder, even where there is agreement, he says.

"We don't want dangerous people to have guns - gun owners don't want that, non-gun owners don't want that," Webster says. "And we have a set of policies in place now that really benefit two, maybe three kinds of people. It benefits criminals, it benefits traffickers, and it benefits gun sellers. Everyone else it doesn't benefit because we have these huge gaps in the laws that make it just insanely easy, at least in some places."