Before President Barack Obama can even launch his campaign-style blitz for new gun control measures, there are strong indications that any comprehensive legislation restricting weapons and ammunition won't even see a vote on the House floor.
Interviews with multiple House Republicans from the Midwest and Northeast reveal almost zero appetite to vote on any sort of sweeping gun bill. In the month after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., none have brought up the issue with Speaker John Boehner. Without internal pressure from such center-right Republicans, and given his difficulties with restive conservatives in his conference, Boehner would seem to have little political incentive to move on guns.
And that may leave the president with few options besides focusing on background checks and what he can accomplish by executive action.
For all the coverage devoted to how much political capital Obama will spend on the hot-button issue and the details of what Vice President Joe Biden's task force will come up with, the political realities of Congress have gotten short shrift. Leaders in both chambers have stalled on the issue, using the Biden commission as cover to not weigh in definitively. But even if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were to attempt to muscle through a bill -- no sure thing given his own ties to the National Rifle Association and the many red-state Senate Democrats up for reelection next year -- there is only the most minimal support among rank-and-file House Republicans for gun control.
Take Reps. Charlie Dent and Jim Gerlach, a pair of moderate Pennsylvania Republicans from swing districts -- the kind of suburban communities where gun politics post-Newtown may have changed. In separate conversations, both indicated they were interested in pursuing solutions on mental health to prevent future shootings but neither believes additional gun restrictions are the answer.
"I'm frankly more concerned about the mental health situation right now than anything else," Dent said. "It's very difficult to get somebody committed."
Dent, who represents the Allentown area, noted that semi-automatic weapons are "commonly owned" in his district and beyond. "This AR-15 that they're all talking about is one of the most popular hunting rifles in the country."
Gerlach, who hails from suburban Philadelphia, said he isn't seeking new curbs on firearms or ammunition.
"That's not something, at least in my district, that's a huge issue," he said. "Because most people recognize that responsible gun owners, regardless of what kind of gun they have or the magazine they're using, use them responsibly. It's how do you keep them out of the hands of those that shouldn't have them -- that's the key."
Gerlach said he was open to tightening background checks, but not gun restrictions. "I'd be willing to look at [background checks] but actual bans of certain firearms just doesn't seem to be the area we need to be looking at."
Other House members and senior GOP aides say the fiscal cliff and the supplemental spending bill for Hurricane Sandy has dominated the conference's internal conversation for the past month. They said the gun issue would most likely be raised at their retreat later this week in Williamsburg, Va., and that additional pressure would very likely come with Obama's inaugural and State of the Union speeches.
But there are unmistakable signals that House Republicans are already looking to punt the issue to the Senate, knowing that Reid is unlikely to force a vote there on a wide-ranging bill.
"Vice President Biden is taking the lead on that as president of the Senate, and naturally it should go to the Senate first," said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of the House GOP leadership. "That's the relationship between Reid and Biden. Let them take it in the Senate, and then we'll take up what they pass out of the Senate and we'll look from there."
Lankford said he was having internal conversations about what Republicans should support, with most of the talk focusing on mental health issues.
Other House Republicans are convinced Obama isn't committed to pushing for new gun control laws and only wants the issue.
"I think all this is the president trying to do this for the far left," said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. "But I don't think they have the votes in the Senate. It's a political exercise for them."
Even among those House Republicans who've supported gun restrictions in the past -- and it's a dwindling group -- there's openness toward new legislation but little willingness to nudge their leadership.
Some Northeastern Republicans indicated they've already spent much of their capital lobbying Boehner and other GOP leaders on the Sandy aid package.
"I voted for the assault weapons ban back in 1994, the first one," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said before quickly adding that he had been busy on hurricane duty. "I'm going to get Sandy out of the way before I antagonize anyone else."
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) wouldn't even entertain questions about whether he'd support new gun control laws, saying: "I'm consumed with Sandy; that's my whole life right now." Pressed on guns, he raised his voice and reiterated his focus on Sandy: "That's my whole life."
Among many House Republicans, there's a sense that shootings like Newtown are part of a broader cultural illness and therefore require a more comprehensive approach.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) noted that he also voted for the 1994 assault weapons ban -- "I would be for doing it again," he said -- but said the issue was more complex.
"I do think there is so much more to this than just guns," Smith said. "It's the violence that's in society."
If anything, House Republicans seem willing to act on some of bulked-up background checks and new measures on mental health.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), whose panel has wide-ranging jurisdiction, said he would take up the mental health issue in the weeks ahead and pointed to a press release his committee issued Monday night.
"The string of attacks in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and at Virginia Tech force us to ask what we can do as a nation to care for and treat those who suffer from mental illnesses," Upton said, adding: "We must seek to gain a better understanding of societal factors, potential causes, and their overall impact upon outbreaks of violence."
Members with close ties to the NRA are apt to channel the gun rights group's talking points when pressed on how to prevent future Newtowns.
Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), who represents Green Bay and a swath of rural Wisconsin, held up the Constitution and what he believes is media hypocrisy.
"The right issues are mental illness, the right issues [are] the media that [make] criminals and crazy people famous," Ribble said. "I find it interesting that there's talk on the Second Amendment but no one talks about the First Amendment. If the media wants to pound the Second Amendment, they want everyone to give up a Second Amendment right, let's see how willing they are to give up one of their own rights."
It's clear that gun rights advocates have made their voices heard in Congress in the month since Newtown.
Asked if she had spoken with Boehner about gun legislation, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), who represents suburban Detroit, said: "No." Any chatter about the issue from her fellow Midwest Republicans? "No," Miller repeated.
"There's a lot of talk about the video games, talk about the movies and mental health," Miller said before noting: "There are well over 20 registered sportsman's associations in my district alone."
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