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Why is an Assault Weapons Ban Off the Table?

President Obama stopped in Colorado last night to visit with survivors of Friday’s mass shooting and with the families of those who were gunned down. Afterward, he delivered some brief remarks, closing with this thought: “I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks, and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country.”

Those words gave some hope to those of us who would like to see actual steps taken to make it harder for someone to shoot 71 people in the space of two minutes. But not so fast. On the flight back to Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the reflection on how we can do something about senseless violence will not include any possibility of reviving the ban on assault weapons.

I know that the politics of gun control have always been difficult and have been made more so over the past few decades by the NRA’s fear-mongering. The organization spent the 2008 campaign warning that Obama would take away everyone’s guns, so I can understand why the White House wouldn’t want to provide any ammunition for that argument. But something is wrong when a majority of Americans oppose a ban on assault weapons. These are not weapons you would need to protect your home unless you are Liam Neeson. In a movie.

But imagine if a politician responded to an act of terrorism the way we are expected to respond to any mass shooting. If he praised the victims, pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice, but essentially acknowledged that these kinds of attacks will keep happening and there’s nothing we can do about it. That politician would be run out of office. E.J. Dionne made a similar point in a column over the weekend, arguing that the NRA has imposed a “gag rule” on talking about relevant policies (like gun control) that we would never tolerate in the wake of a tragedy like a flood or mine disaster.

Was it politicizing 9/11 to talk immediately afterward about invading Afghanistan? Was it offensive to the memory of those killed on 9/11 to impose stricter security measures in airports?

One of the first reactions out of the White House after the shootings on Friday was an assurance from Carney that the horrifying act did not appear to be related to terrorism. I suppose that was a relief to some. But 71 lives were still shattered by bullets and 12 people are still dead.

Follow me on Twitter at @SullivanAmy.