Washington • Another mass shooting, another call for gun control.
As investigators dug into the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard last week, less than 2 miles away the question of reforming the nation’s gun laws again reverberated through the Capitol. Twelve people lay dead in the latest gun-fueled rampage that previously spurred talk of expanding background checks and curtailing some firearm sales.
But, more quickly than before, that talk fizzled, a growing trend in the political response to mass-casualty shootings. Unlike after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre or the Aurora theater murders, momentum for new firearm restrictions lasted days, or even just hours.
“Sadly, I think it is true, particularly because we have almost exclusively Republicans who have ceded their decision-making on what’s best for the country and what’s best for preventing violence-related death from occurring to outside organizations like the [National Rifle Association],” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from Florida, told USA Today last week.
Even Democrats, though, aren’t willing to push legislation they had fought for earlier this year, arguing that it’s a waste of time to see them defeated again.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who sponsored a bill to expand background checks for firearms that lost by five votes earlier this year, said he wouldn’t even raise the measure again without guaranteed support from more senators.
And that’s an elusive goal as the memory of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting — and the 20 children slain during the massacre — fades and politicians who supported any gun-control efforts after that tragedy face the wrath of the NRA and the pro-gun lobby.
Gun control backlash • Earlier this month, Colorado voters recalled Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron over their votes on gun reform, replacing them with gun-friendly Republicans.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who voted against this year’s gun-control measures, brushed aside talk of bringing back the legislation as even its backers aren’t on board.
“That’s really a question for [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid and his fellow Senate Democrats, but they’ve indicated no such desire to take up the issue again after it failed a few months ago,” Hatch said. “We all want to do everything we can to prevent attacks such as what we saw this week at the Navy Yard, but unfortunately nothing that was debated a few months ago would have stopped this.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, says there’s no appetite to regurgitate the gun-control debate.
“Every statement I’ve seen about that, even from Democrats, has indicated that’s not going to happen,” Lee said.
Hatch, Lee and their fellow Republicans contend that access to guns isn’t the problem that has led to the recent mass shootings but access to guns by those with mental-health concerns.
The Navy Yard shooter — who was killed during the melee — had twice approached Veterans Affairs hospitals with mental illness worries, authorities say, but had still been able to buy guns and gain access into a secure military facility.
“What I wish we would focus on is the consistent thread through most of these tragedies which is the mental health of the shooter,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It looks like, once again, that’s an element of this one, and there’s actually, I believe, a bipartisan desire to do something, but my point is that we ought to do it where we can make a difference, and that’s where I’d be interested.
“Symbolic legislation,” Cornyn added, “would not have actually prevented many of these terrible tragedies.”
Still kicking • Efforts to pass gun control aren’t over by any means.
Americans for Responsible Solutions — a group started by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at a congressional event in Arizona in 2011 — announced earlier this year it had raised $11 million toward its goal of creating an organization to counter the NRA.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which launched after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan and the wounding of then-White House press secretary James Brady in 1981, is well aware of the long slog that it takes to pass gun-control legislation.
The push for the Brady Bill, which required a five-day waiting period to buy handguns, began in 1987 but took seven years, six votes and three sessions of Congress to pass.
“In recent years we’ve experienced mass shootings in a supermarket parking lot, an Army base, a movie theater, a temple, shopping malls, universities, high schools, elementary schools, and now a naval facility, and after every one the corporate gun lobby’s friends in Congress obstructed the will of the American people and stood in the way of sensible solutions to gun violence,” says Dan Gross, the executive director of the Brady Campaign. “Americans deserve better than this.”
President Barack Obama on Saturday told a gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus that the push to close loopholes and enhance gun-control measures isn’t over.
“We fought a good fight earlier this year, but we came up short,” Obama said. “And that means we’ve got to get back up and go back at it. Because as long as there are those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun, then we’ve got to work as hard as possible for the sake of our children.”