To begin I would like to express, from the very marrow of my bones, my sincerest condolences to those affected by the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. I also apologise in advance if this article seems insensitive in how short a period it has been since the shooting. This is not my intention, but simply put, an issue needs to be explored whilst the incident is fresh in everyone's mind. That issue is whether or not these shootings will affect the U.S. elections come November.
In short, I believe that they may affect the outcome to a degree, but will not be decisive in who is sworn in. Allow me to elaborate. Obama has won both plaudits and affections with his effective and sensitive response to the attack. In comparison to events earlier in his presidency, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he has been praised for the swiftness of his response. However, neither candidate will want to use this event as political capital, at least not during an election campaign.
Firstly, it would be all too easy for anyone using this to be seen to be insensitive and crass to trade off the shootings. Secondly, neither wishes to erode their standing within differing democratic groups. Obama has lost large parts of working class white Americans since 2008, and will be unwilling to run a gun control campaign that will only further alienate this group. Romney is on record as a staunch Second Amendment defender since launching his campaign, and any move to change his stance will only bring about comparisons to John Kerry and his infamous "flip-flopping" policies. Also, lest he make an enemy of the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the strongest lobbying groups within Washington. Obama will also be unwilling to do the same.
Obama also has another problem; Fast and Furious. Despite sounding like a Vin Diesel film franchise, it is a political tinderbox. Essentially, this program may have placed arms in the hands of Mexican cartels to strengthen the case for stronger gun laws back home. So far, it has not gained much traction in the media and has not hurt Obama too badly, and he will want to keep it that way. Further, it is not a good time for either candidate to bring up the issue. Notwithstanding it being a dangerous idea to change policy stance this close to election day, Romney is about to take his first trip to Europe to appeal to Americans abroad during the London Olympics. It is also the time when he is expected to focus on his foreign policy. This is something he desperately needs to do, as he has so far avoided any concrete statements on foreign policy. Also, we cannot forget Obama's ace in the hole; that he managed to do what George W. Bush could not in finding and killing Osama Bin Laden.
The Olympics also provides a great opportunity for Obama. Team USA is almost guaranteed to come back with a handful of gold medals, and a photo opportunity on the White House lawn will hopefully lighten a very dark time in America. This is key: the Olympics could gain Obama votes if well handled. Gun control tends not to gain votes, as it tends to be seen as part of a wider issue; but it can eradicate many and alienate voters. For example, Fast and Furious would be either a homeland security or border control issue, not defined as gun control, so would be an options for Obama if not so woefully handled. Hence why neither candidate will be willing to mention it prior to November. It is simply too toxic. After the election however, things may be different.
Should Romney win, he will want to keep the NRA sweet after their power is shown during Bill Clinton's administration when they crushed Clinton in the 1994 midterms in response to an earlier ban on assault weapons. Notably, this has been allowed to expire, probably in exchange for some political capital. He also clearly supports the Second Amendment after staying away from gun control laws in recent years, despite being involved when he first entered politics (he supported the Brady Act in the early nineties). Seeking a second term, he will be unlikely to return to his earlier stance.
Obama on the other hand can be much freer in his choices should he be re-elected. With no concerns about being re-elected come 2016, he many move to limit gun control during his term in office. He probably will not try as Clinton did and limit automated handguns or any other such divisive legislation. Anything like this will be shot down by the NRA and may be seen by others as "unconstitutional" and "an infringement of civil liberties". He may though get through an act on online sales, based on the evidence that the Colorado shooter James Holmes seemingly built an arsenal over the internet comprising over 6,000 rounds with limited oversight or background checks. Obama may do this not for political gain, but personal reasons and to build upon his legacy as president.
The unfortunate truth is that will require some hefty political capital. However, this may be only gained when confronted by yet another Columbine, yet another Virginia Tech, yet another Aurora.