A mass shooting Friday in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead and 58 wounded has already pushed the issue of gun control into the local political dialogue across the country. This weekend, two high-profile Senate race debates in Virginia and Connecticut tackled the topic.
At the Democratic Connecticut Senate debate Sunday afternoon, Rep. Chris Murphy and former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz were just moments into the hourlong forum when they were presented with a question on gun control.
"I absolutely think we need tougher gun control laws in our country," Bysiewicz said, according to Hearst Media, which co-sponsored the League of Women Voters debate. "We've seen states that have tough gun control laws have fewer deaths." Both candidates reportedly voiced support for gun control legislation, noting two gun-related homicides reported over the weekend in the local city of Bridgeport.
In Virginia Saturday morning, the first question posed to Democratic former Gov. Tim Kaine and Republican former Sen. George Allen concerned gun control. Host Candy Crowley of CNN noted that President Barack Obama's staff said the president wants to protect gun rights while preventing people who shouldn't possess weapons from obtaining them. "What law is that that would have prevented Aurora, Colo.?" Crowley asked.
Kaine answered first and pushed back a bit against what he views as the immediate politicizing of the tragedy, which he said also occurred after the Virginia Tech shooting. "What we did, though, is that we stepped back and we learned, and we fixed and we made improvements," Kaine said. He added that the state of Virginia, under his leadership, made changes to the gun laws following that tragedy, including adding mental history to background files. Kaine also noted his support for background checks at gun shows and lamented the recent expiration of a state law limiting handgun purchases to one per month.
Allen, a conservative whom the National Rifle Association endorsed, took a step back when it came time for his response, calling for a complete review of the facts in the Colorado case before discussing the issue further. "Let's get all the facts before we start getting into political matters," Allen said. He added that he has actively supported criminal records checks for any firearm purchases, which include looking at mental disorders and drug abuse.
"I'm pleased to hear George and I stand here and agree on background records checks," Kaine said, noting that checks are not currently required at weapons shows.
The issue of gun control was already likely to play out through the general election campaign in Virginia due to the state's competitive makeup and its high number of gun owners. But Friday's tragedy has immediately renewed the issue as a political lightning rod for this year's elections.
But it's unlikely that the immediate political interest in gun control will have a lasting impact.
Following the January 2011 shooting that left then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords severely wounded, many others injured and six dead in Arizona, the nation's political leaders engaged in some back-and-forth over the issue of gun control, but no major legislation was acted upon in the wake of that tragedy.
Since Friday's shooting, Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg has voiced a desire to put forth gun control legislation.
"Our hearts are still heavy with sadness after the tragedy in Colorado, but we need to start today on efforts to prevent the next attack," Lautenberg said in a statement Sunday. "We should begin by passing my legislation to ban the sale of high-capacity gun magazines."
But it is unclear if enough of Lautenberg's colleagues will join with him to make action possible by the end of the current session. Leadership from Congress up through the White House has not voiced a strong, new desire to focus on gun control.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a gun control advocate, on Friday called on Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to make clear their plans to stymie gun violence in the wake of the shooting. Both candidates spoke out about the tragedy but have not used it to foment a new discussion about the issue.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a gun control supporter, said on "Fox News Sunday" that she doesn't believe the middle of an election year is a good time to renew the issue. "It's a bad time to embrace a new subject," Feinstein said.
Whether the presidential candidates are interested in speaking about gun control or not, they will likely have to address it on Oct. 3. That's the date of the first presidential debate of the general election. The venue? Denver, Colo.