BY ANDREW DOOLITTLE California News Service
WASHINGTON -- Last month's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School may have shaken public opinion, but there's no evidence it has changed the politics of gun control among California's representatives in Congress.
No gun control opponent from the state has expressed a change of heart regarding the sort of restrictions proposed by President Obama or California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Inquiries sent to all 53 members of the California House delegation by the California News Service confirmed a longstanding pattern: California Democrats overwhelmingly support tighter restrictions on guns and Republicans oppose them.
The lack of movement is a sobering sign for the prospects of gun control legislation.
Feinstein introduced legislation Thursday that would ban the sale, manufacture, transfer and import of roughly 150 assault-style weapons. Obama has called for a similar ban, along with a limit on high capacity magazines and universal background checks.
The proposals need the support of at least a couple dozen Republicans, who outnumber Democrats in the House 233-200, to pass. It does not appear either will get any help from California Republicans.
Among the state's 15 Republican House members, 14 received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association. The other -- Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista -- received an "A+." Each has received campaign contributions from the NRA.
By contrast, the NRA gave "F'' ratings to 32 of state's 38 Democrats. None received contributions.
Postings on members' congressional websites illustrate the partisan divide.
Only two Republican lawmakers acknowledged last month's school shooting on their Congressional web pages. More than half of the state's 38 Democrats issued news releases calling for some form of stronger gun control.
The unwavering stand by Republicans leads many to believe that gun control has little chance of passage.
"My guess would be no. You'd need a different House," said William Vizzard, a gun scholar at Sacramento State.
Vizzard, a former Fresno deputy sheriff and Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agent, said the outcry for gun control that follows shootings typically fades quickly.
"The problem with issues with guns is that they're only hot for a short period of time,'' Vizzard said.
In 1994, 46 House Republicans joined 188 Democrats in support of Feinstein's original assault weapons ban. The ban expired after 10 years as Republican opposition hardened.
Three California Republicans voted for the 1994 bill including Rep. Michael Huffington from Santa Barbara, who challenged Feinstein for her Senate seat that year. None are still serving.
Since last month's shooting, there has been a marked increase in public support for gun control. A New York Times/CBS poll conducted earlier this month found 54 percent favor stricter guns laws, up from 39 percent in April.
However some caution that public support does necessarily translate into legislative action.
Joseph McNamara, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution said his support for gun control measures when he was serving as San Jose police chief prompted threatening mail and shots fired at his home
"There is overwhelming public support,'' McNamara said." People who do speak out in favor of gun control are subject to intimidation by the gun lobbyists that the public is not aware of."
"Because of the history of intimidation of police chiefs and politicians, there's a lot of silence from people who would otherwise speak in favor of reasonable gun control if they didn't fear reprisal,'' he said.
Feinstein acknowledged the difficult politics when she introduced her gun legislation on Thursday.
"It will be an uphill battle, there's no question,'' Feinstein said.
Feinstein said it will take public pressure to persuade opponents that without action there will be more tragedies.
"See what your silence does,'' she said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "There will be more of these. These aren't going to end.''
Nearly all of California's 38 Democratic House members are vocal advocates of gun control. Those who represent more rural areas, such as Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno and Gloria Negrete-McLeod of Chino are less enthusiastic about strict controls, but have indicated a willingness to work with the president and Feinstein.
No Republican has expressed a similar flexibility.
Kevin Eastman, legislative director to Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Redding, noted that Feinstein's proposed ban is similar to laws already on the books in California. Asked if that meant the congressman might support them, he said: "We would oppose (imposing) our mistakes on other states.''
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, criticized Obama's proposals as unnecessary, focusing the "government's authority and power on controlling honest citizens rather than making it more likely to disarm criminals."
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Palmdale, said he was willing to look at the president's proposals in preventing school violence, though he affirmed his firm support for the Second Amendment.
"I am committed to addressing the root causes of gun violence," he said in a written statement.
Democrats were far more eager to discuss new means to reduce gun violence. Several expressed muted optimism that minds might still be changed.
"The impact of Newtown will help spur others who have been on the sidelines to action," said Rep. Honda, D-San Jose, in an email.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, a skilled skeet shooter and avid hunter, was named to head the Democratic gun control efforts in the House by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, with an eye toward persuading gun owners that some restrictions are reasonable.
Thompson said legislation might be more successful if gun owners do not feel threatened their guns will be taken away.
"If you're going to call it gun control, you're going to divide the country. If you're interested in calling it gun violence prevention, then people will work together," he said.
Thompson said that a recent Supreme Court ruling, which overturned a Washington, D.C., handgun ban, might be more important in changing the politics than the Connecticut shooting.
In the 2008 Heller case, the Court affirmed that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to bear arms.
He said the ruling should allow gun owners to support restrictions without fearing that their guns will be confiscated and "relieve a little bit of the anxiety of those wanting to own firearms.''
As Feinstein introduced her measure on Thursday, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was killed in 1993 by a gunman who opened fire on a Long Island commuter train, introduced a companion bill in the House.
The California News Service is a journalism project of the University of California Washington Center and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. Email the California News Service at email@example.com.