Ben Feller

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will not push for stricter gun laws this election year, the White House said Thursday, one day after his impassioned remarks about the need to keep assault weapons off the streets suggested he may plunge into that political fight and challenge Congress to act.

Instead, Obama’s stand on the government’s role ended right where it was after the mass shooting in Colorado last week: Enforce existing law better.

That is the same view held by his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, as both reach for broader and more politically appealing ways to keep guns away from killers.

Obama still wants Congress to reinstitute a federal ban on military-style assault weapons that lapsed years ago, his spokesman, Jay Carney, said. But the president is not and has not been pushing for that ban.

There is no interest among many lawmakers of both parties to take on the divisive matter. Especially not with an election in just more than 100 days.

Sealing the matter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday the Senate’s schedule is too packed to even have a debate on gun control.

Asked if the Senate might debate the issue next year, Reid said, “Nice try.”

Public opinion has shifted away from tighter gun control. Twenty years ago, polls showed that a substantial majority supported stricter limits on guns. Now Americans appear evenly divided. Nearly every statement on the matter from Romney and Obama includes reminders that they stand by the Second Amendment.

From the White House, Carney said: “There are things that we can do short of legislation and short of gun laws.”

The lack of legislation reflects that reality, too: Police say laws and background checks are often futile in keeping someone with horrifying intent from executing a massacre. Authorities say the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., shootings broke no laws when he purchased the guns he is accused of using, and he passed the required background checks.

Obama and his team “gain nothing politically, and they just don’t have the horsepower to pass anything,” said William Vizzard, professor emeritus of criminal justice at California State University, Sacramento, and an author on gun control politics. “And then the problem is trying to craft a law that would really do something.”

Yet at least one prominent gun control group sought Thursday to pressure Obama and Romney to offer voters concrete plans. The group’s president, Dan Gross, said words alone were not enough in a nation in which 32 people are killed by guns each day. He specifically challenged Obama to move beyond the rhetoric.

It was Obama who stirred the issue in speaking Wednesday night to the National Urban League.

In his most extensive remarks on guns since the Colorado shooting left 12 dead and dozens wounded, Obama said steps to reduce violence have been opposed by Congress and “we should leave no stone unturned” in the imperative of keeping young people safe.

And he got specific on assault-style weapons. “A lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals — that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities,” he said.