After 15 years of a virtual gag order on guns in presidential politics, Democrats are talking again.

President Barack Obama is considering more executive action on gun control. The front-runner in the Democratic race to replace him says she “will not be silenced” on guns. At the Democrats’ first debate in the presidential season, candidates jockeyed for bragging rights over who had the lowest rating from the National Rifle Association.

The return of the gun debate comes in the first White House contest since the December 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school, and a string of mass shootings after that. The absence of gun legislation passed by Congress has spurred a steady call for action from the Democratic base.

Democrats say support for new gun laws is broader now and the politics of the issue have shifted enough to make the push for tougher measures a political winner, even if there remains almost no chance for success in Congress.

Republicans are eager for Democrats to test the theory,

They watched the Democratic debate and saw fodder for advertising aimed at rural voters and gun owners still firmly opposed to putting more restrictions on gun purchases. Those voters have tended to retain their passion on the issue and have been motivated to vote, long after a shooting recedes from the headlines.

The White House has been upfront that it plans to keep attention on the issue.

Obama has directed his staff to review gun laws for possible ways he could make changes without congressional approval.

One option could be changing regulations to ensure gun show and Internet purchasers are subject to background checks, a move that would probably run into a court challenge over whether he has that authority.