Team Obama Halts Talk of Assault Weapons Ban

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now the second member of President Obama's cabinet to get shot down by the White House over the politically sensitive issue of assault weapons. After meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Clinton said that reinstating the U.S. ban on assault weapons—which was passed in 1994 and expired in 2004—is one step this country could take to curb the flow of guns to Mexico's drug cartels. "These military-style weapons don't belong on anybody's street," Clinton told NBC. Within hours, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that he was unaware of "any plans" to push for such a ban—even though Obama had backed one during last year's campaign.

Attorney General Eric Holder had a similar experience a few weeks earlier. After he endorsed a ban at a Feb. 25 press conference, Justice officials were instructed by White House aides to drop the issue, according to administration and congressional aides who asked not to be named due to political sensitivities. What's behind the shift? A budding relationship between the gun lobby and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. After Holder mentioned the ban, the National Rifle Association sent out action alerts to its members and bombarded Hill offices with calls. Sixty-five House Dems dashed off a letter to Holder opposing such a ban, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi—echoing the NRA's mantra on all gun-control issues—said she backed "enforcing the laws we have now."

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told NEWSWEEK that Hill Democrats have "learned their lesson" from 1994, when they enacted the ban and subsequently lost control of Congress. They've also learned that cozying up to the NRA can pay big dividends. Last year Democrats received 20 percent of the nearly $1.2 million that the NRA pumped into congressional campaign coffers—more than twice what it gave to Dems just six years earlier. The way things are going, this could be more than a shotgun wedding.