WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Gun control advocates are looking ahead to this year’s first presidential debate, set to be held in Denver, Colorado, as a chance to keep pressing President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney on U.S. gun policy.
The first debate between the two is scheduled for October 3 at the University of Denver, about 10 miles from the cinema in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman killed 12 people on July 20.
A nonpartisan commission announced the debate schedule in October 2011, long before the shooting.
Obama and Romney “will be asked about what they would do to prevent gun violence and the public will expect them to offer solutions,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, at a news conference on Thursday.
Neither Obama nor Romney has given a detailed statement about gun policy since the Aurora shooting, though White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday that Obama may have more to say “in the future.”
The first presidential debate is scheduled to focus on domestic policy. It will be divided into six, 15-minute segments, each devoted to a topic determined by a moderator, according to the debate commission.
The identity of the moderator has not been announced.
Colorado was home to another high-profile shooting in April 1999, when two teenagers killed 13 at Columbine High School.
The Brady Campaign, based in Washington, D.C., is the largest U.S. gun control lobbying group. It was largely credited with the 1993 passage of a law imposing federal background checks on some gun purchases.
The group is named for Jim and Sarah Brady, who became prominent advocates for gun control after Jim Brady, as President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, was severely wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan.
Gun control advocates have been overwhelmed in recent years by the political strength of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups, who draw influence from a legion of passionate, often rural supporters.
In 2004, for example, Congress did not renew a 10-year ban on many semiautomatic rifles similar to one used by the shooter in Colorado.
Gross said “political pundits and the media” have been too quick to dismiss the possibility of change after the Aurora shooting. “The skepticism out there has been overwhelming, but they’ve been wrong,” he said.
Obama should be applauded for raising the possibility he will do more on gun control, but it is not enough, Gross said. “The president said very similar things in his last campaign. A speech is not a plan. An endorsement of a measure is not a solution,” Gross said.
The Brady Campaign has launched a new website, wearebetterthanthis.org, to gather signatures for petitions in favor of new gun control measures.
Supporters of gun rights have countered that the days after a shooting is not the time to talk about changes in laws, saying instead that the focus should be on victims.