“I really do believe that this time it could be different,” said Paul Helmke, executive director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Yet gun rights advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Thursday that there was little chance the attack would produce significant new legislation or a change in a national culture that has long been accepting of guns. If anything, they said, lawmakers are less receptive than ever to new gun restrictions.
If the politically sophisticated N.R.A. has struck a quiet pose, the Crossroads of the West gun show will go on as planned this weekend at the Pima County Fairgrounds, 13 miles from the shooting site; another gun show is scheduled for the next weekend. “We had no hesitation about going ahead with the show so soon after the incident,” said Lois Chedsey, secretary to the Arizona Arms Association, a show sponsor. “Gun sales have been up since last Saturday”
An even bigger event in Las Vegas, the Shot Show — which bills itself as the country’s largest exhibition of guns and ammunition — is proceeding next week with a four-day run that fills two floors of convention space.
As an institution, Congress seems to celebrate gun ownership as much as many communities in Arizona, which may explain why efforts to enact gun control legislation have foundered. Many members of Congress own firearms, which they carry while riding around in farm trucks in their district or concealed behind a jacket in the streets, among constituents.
“I carry a gun because it is a personal preference and for my own personal safety,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, one of several lawmakers who carry a concealed weapon in their districts. (His is a Glock 23.) “It’s not for everybody. Not everyone should rush out because of what happened last week and start carrying, but I like it, and I do it.” Representative Gabrielle Giffords once said that she herself owned a Glock — the same firearm the man accused of shooting her is said to have used.
Democrats who favor more restrictive gun laws say they do not expect new legislation to be passed, especially now that Republicans control of the House and Democrats have lost seats in the Senate. “The Pledge to America is our plan,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the House speaker, John A. Boehner, “and our immediate focus is on addressing the top priorities of the American people, creating jobs, cutting spending and reforming the way Congress works.”
And Democrats are hardly uniform in supporting tough gun laws as a matter of policy; as a matter of politics, Democrats in Congress have increasingly shied away from the issue.
Gun control advocates said that they hoped the circumstances of this attack — including the facts that the suspect obtained his weapon legally and that one of the victims was a member of Congress — would help their cause.
Josh Horowitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said, “People have really had it, and this whole magazine clip issue, and the mental health issue, is something that people can get their heads around.”
But lawmakers seeking even modest limits on gun rights seem almost resigned to failure. Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said in a telephone interview that since he proposed a bill this week that would outlaw having a firearm within 1,000 feet of a member of Congress, his office had received “100 calls an hour from people who think I am trying to take away their Second Amendment rights.”
“This kind of legislation is very difficult,” Mr. King said, noting there had been “no enthusiasm,” even among Democrats, for the renewal of the assault weapon ban of 1994 in 2004. “The fact is Congress has not done any gun legislation in years,” he said, adding, “Once you get out of the Northeast, guns are a part of daily life.”
Representative Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, who was elected in 1996 largely on a gun control platform after her husband was killed and son injured by a gunman on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993, is careful with her language in describing her new bill, which would ban large-capacity ammunition magazines.
“This is not a gun control bill,” she said. “I like to use the word ‘gun safety bills.’ And this one just addresses the narrow issue of these clips.” Ms. McCarthy said she would try to appeal to members of the Senate and President Obama to push her legislation forward. “Listen, any kind of bill the N.R.A. is against is always a problem.”
Asked about prospects for new gun restrictions, Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, asserted, “I maintain that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens makes communities safer, not less safe.”
The N.R.A. has kept such a low profile that its normally accessible executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, declined to comment. “At this time, anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate,” said Andrew Arulanandam, the director of public affairs. But gun advocates said the fact that the group was holding back reflected a calculation that the prospects of gun control legislation passing in Congress have not changed much.
But if the N.R.A. has kept a strategically low profile, other gun advocates have not. They said they were confident that as always happens, passions would subside and their argument — that Americans have a constitutional right to own guns — would carry the day.
Erich Pratt, the director of communications for Gun Owners of America, said his organization and others were girding for at least a skirmish in Congress. “But I think after the November election it’s going to be very tough for Carolyn McCarthy and even the Peter Kings,” he said “Why should the government be in the business of telling us how we can defend ourselves?”
Mr. Pratt added: “These politicians need to remember that these rights aren’t given to us by them. They come from God. They are God-given rights. They can’t be infringed or limited in any way. What are they going to do: limit it two or three rounds. Having lots of ammunition is critical, especially if the police are not around and you need to be able to defend yourself against mobs.”
Dave Workman, senior editor of Gun Week, a publication of the Second Amendment Foundation, said the gun control lobby was trying to exploit the shootings. “The average gun owner,” he said, “is saying: ‘I didn’t fire any shots in Tucson. I just want to go hunting, or protect my family, and this is just going to create more paperwork and more headaches for me.’ ”
Last weekend’s attack is unlikely to change the habits of members of Congress who carry guns. In fact, some said that an armed civilian might have stopped the carnage in Tucson.
Representative Tom Graves, a Republican, “is a firm believer in Second Amendment rights, owns firearms and has a concealed weapon permit in Georgia,” said his spokesman, John Donnelly, “and he has no plans to change his normal routine other than to focus his prayers on the victims of the tragic attack in Tucson.”