The head of the House Democratic Caucus said Tuesday that Congress should “absolutely” ban the sale of assault weapons in the wake of last week’s fatal shooting rampage in Colorado.

Many Democratic leaders have been wary of making a full-throated push for such a ban since House Democrats were swept from the majority in 1994 – a bruising loss some observers have linked to the Democrats’ gun reforms earlier that year.

But Rep. John Larson (Conn.) said Tuesday that Congress shouldn’t shy away from the issue simply because it’s tough politically.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he does not plan any action on gun control despite calls to pass an assault weapons ban and other measures…

“You guys, I am not going to be here with each of you debating gun control,” he said. “I’ve told you my feeling on that.”

Reid, who was thought to be in the running for an NRA endorsement during his last election, disagrees with many liberals in his party on gun regulation.

Even Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., — who was one of the biggest cheerleaders for the assault weapons ban when it passed the House in 1994 – suggested there is no political will for new gun laws or re-instating the assault weapons ban. Under the weapons ban, which lapsed in 2004. Under the ban, it would have been illegal for James Holmes to purchase the deadliest of the weapons he used: the AR-15 assault rifle…

House Democrats including Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Carolyn McCarthy of New York, both long-time gun control advocates, point to the shooting in Colorado and other mass shootings as proof that the country’s gun laws are insufficient. Monday Blumenauer took to the floor to accuse the National Rifle Association of political bullying. He pointed to the shooting as a renewed opportunity “to deal with an epidemic of gun violence” in the United States.

“The NRA argues that all we need is for existing gun laws to be enforced while they systematically set about to dismantle which laws we have,” Blumenaue said. “I continue to feel that there’s no reason to permit armor-piercing, cop-killer bullets to be sold like Tic-tac’s, that automatic weapons should be available over the counter with 100-bullet magazines like killer in Colorado had, that facilitate such sprees.”

[G]un control advocates tell another story as well. The president has shied away from the gun debate, they said, out of political expedience. The Obama who spoke at that church rally isn’t the same politician who chose soft-touch responses to the mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz., and, most recently, in Aurora, Colo.

“There is no question he’s softened on the issue,” said Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor who focused on the unwillingness of Democrats to take on the gun lobby in his new book, “A Nation of Wusses.” “But in fairness to the president, you don’t see many other Democrats rushing to the floor saying we need to have legislation.”…

“He has been supportive of national policy until he took office,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “I don’t know how much it is the influence of the gun lobby directly, as it is the kind of political calculus. He had an agenda and this was not at the top of his agenda. He needed to create coalitions of support for things like health care and he didn’t want to risk fragmenting that support in any way.”

But as national incidents of gun violence flared with no major responses, groans have grown louder.

On his visit to Aurora, Barack Obama spoke a few half-hearted words—he might have wished he could venture more—on the topic. His rival, Mitt Romney, continued simply to pander to the rich coffers of the National Rifle Association. In Washington, you can be assured that hardly anyone will do more, and not simply because members of Congress “don’t have the spine to act,” the verdict of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was murdered and son was wounded in a gun attack on a commuter train 17 years ago. The stark reality is that the half-century battle for gun control has been lost politically—again, and again, now perhaps permanently. And that outcome seems impervious to any new outrage perpetrated in the increasingly grim randomness of America as a recurring, movable shooting gallery…

Aboard Air Force One, on a journey to console the victims and their families in Colorado, Obama’s press secretary said the president’s focus was on enforcing “existing law.” And you can’t expect him to launch a futile demand for tougher gun laws that would never pass the House or Senate. Nor should he pursue a course of faux courage that would represent a heedless disregard for everything else at stake in 2012—and that would sacrifice his chances in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, thereby shattering the hope for a progressive presidency empowering the forces of reaction to impose their will across the board.

The psychic satisfaction of being pure on gun control is not worth losing the election—and letting Romney further pack a Supreme Court that has already ruled five to four that the Constitution confers an individual right to own firearms despite state and local gun laws. If this happened, things would only get worse.

These days, people are trying to use the Aurora killings as a pretext to criticize America’s gun culture or to call for stricter gun control laws. (This doesn’t happen after European or Asian spree killings.) Personally, I’ve supported tighter gun control laws. But it’s not clear that those laws improve public safety. Researchers reviewing the gun control literature for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, were unable to show the laws are effective.

And gun control laws are probably even less germane in these cases. Rampage killers tend to be meticulous planners. If they can’t find an easy way to get a new gun, they’ll surely find a way to get one of the 200 million guns that already exist in this country. Or they’ll use a bomb or find another way.

Looking at guns, looking at video games — that’s starting from the wrong perspective. People who commit spree killings are usually suffering from severe mental disorders. The response, and the way to prevent future episodes, has to start with psychiatry, too.