White House officials are treading carefully following the Friday morning shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., as officials gather more information about the killer.
Democrats have tried to use previous killings for political gain, both after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the Jan. 2011 shooting of Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
For now, White House officials are acting cautiously, and Obama has cancelled a campaign swing to return to Washington.
“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,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday after being asked by a reporter if the shooting would spur gun-control efforts.
“There has been progress in that regard in terms of improving the volume and quality of information in background checks. But I have nothing new — nothing additional on that for you,” Carney said just before 10.00 a.m EST.
“This is obviously a very recent event,” he said.
Obama’s campaign officials are also halting campaign-related TV advertising in the critical swing-state. “We have asked affiliates in Colorado to pull down all of our advertising for the time being… It takes time for stations to be able to do this, but we are making every effort,” said a campaign official.
In a brief morning speech in Florida, Obama eschewed politics, saying, “there are other days for politics… this is a day for prayer and reflection… [please] pause for moment of silence for the victims of this terrible tragedy.”
However, he also injected himself into the atrocity, just as he did after the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager.
“What if Malia and Sasha had been in the theater?” he told the crowd of Democrats, who had assembled to hear him give a campaign speech.
In March, Obama used a Rose Garden event to associate himself with the group of African-American leaders then protesting the handling of the Martin investigation.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said in response to a shouted Rose Garden question.
Since then, Obama has avoid the Florida controversy, as accumulating evidence suggests that Martin was killed while attacking a mixed-race neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman.
Democrats were politically damaged when some advocates — including California Rep. Brad Sherman and New York Rep. Louise Slaughter — tried to blame the Giffords shooting on the tea party movement or on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“‘Don’t retreat, reload.’ Someone in Nevada saying we may need to use Second Amendment remedies. There’s only one way to read this,” Slaughter said of Palin’s prior political comments.
However, Pain pushed back hard, accusing her critics of committing a “blood libel.”
The Democrats’ criticism was undermined when the shooter was quickly revealed to be a seriously disturbed local youth with incoherent left-of-center political views.
After the 1995 Oklahoma bombing, Clinton filled the traditional role of comforter-in-chief, and saw his poll ratings rise.
Some Democrats also attributed the polling rise to his simultaneous effort to blame the Oklahoma bombing on conservative talk radio.
Clinton denounced hosts on “hate-talk radio… [who] leave the impression, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.”
Clinton did not mention Rush Limbaugh, but many established media outlets said Clinton’s comments were directed at the leading conservative host.
Democrats were pleased with Clinton’s charges, and provided him another opportunity to make those claims in 2010, on the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing.
There’s a fine line between political criticism and advocacy of violence, and “the closer you get to that line, and the more responsibility you have, the more you have to think about the echo chamber in which your words resonate,” he said at a 2010 political event organized by the Center for American Progress.