For gun-rights advocates, the Democrats' registration proposals are a call to arms. John Velleco, a spokesman for Gun Owners of America, said the program would ensnare law-abiding people while leaving criminals unharmed. And it would arm the federal government with a dangerous database.
"When you register all gun owners, what's next?" Velleco asked. "A gun owner tax? You have all our names. A gun ban? You know where to collect them all."
But the Republicans may be more vulnerable, said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Gun control plays well with suburban swing voters, especially women, who propelled Clinton to victory in 1992 and 1996 but have been leaning toward Bush.
Al Salvi, a former GOP candidate for a Senate seat from Illinois, has said the gun-control issue cost him the election to Richard J. Durbin in 1996. And guns may have helped Democrat Charles E. Schumer defeat then-New York Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato in 1998.
And violent eruptions, such as yesterday's rampage outside Pittsburgh, invariably put the spotlight back on guns -- often at politically important moments.
"Gun control is a good Democratic issue," Kohut said.
Bush will try to frame his gun control proposals to sound tough enough for moderates while not alienating conservatives, predicted Brian Morton, a spokesman for Handgun Control Inc.
"Basically, Bush says enough to sound like he's for something, and that's where it stops," Morton said.
But both Republicans have legislative records that they cannot hide, said Kristen Rand, director of federal policy at the pro-gun control Violence Policy Center. And Democrats are sure to exploit those votes, especially against Bush.
"I don't think he can sound pro-gun control in the states where it can make a difference," she said. "It's not going to be easy for Bush to soft-pedal this stuff that doesn't mean much."