Later in the year, the NRA objected to legislation to require groups airing political advertising to disclose donors. Fearing the fallout, enough rank and file Democrats demanded changes that the leadership had to revise the bill. A revised bill, granting the NRA and other large organizations an exemption, eventually passed.
Gross, head of the Brady Campaign, says Democrats have drawn the wrong lessons for years. "The cultural narrative exists because of the assessment of Al Gore's loss in 2000 and the mid-terms in 1994, and in both cases I think the gun issue was scapegoated," he said. "Those who didn't vote for Al Gore weren't going to vote for him anyway."
At the same time, Gross readily conceded the lingering hold of the issue.
"Look at Kerry when he felt he needed to dress up in hunting gear," he said, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate's well-photographed excursion into a duck blind in camouflage clothing in swing-state Ohio a few weeks before the 2004 election.
Four years later, Obama won the White House despite strong opposition from the NRA.
As a senator from Illinois and state lawmaker before that, he was a strong supporter of gun control.
Following last year's killing of six people and the wounding of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Obama called for steps to "keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place."
He advanced no legislative proposals then, and on Friday, spokesman Jay Carney said, "The president believes that we need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights of Americans, while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get them."
Obama isn't the only 2012 White House candidate to adjust his views on gun control.
In a losing Senate campaign in Massachusetts in 1994, Mitt Romney said, "I don't line up with the NRA." A decade later, as governor, he signed legislation making a state assault weapons ban permanent.
This year, bidding for support at the NRA convention, he said: "We need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners."
AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP writer Jack Gillum contributed to this report.
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