WASHINGTON – A leading advocate of stricter gun safety laws argued earlier this month that momentum had not stalled in Congress and cited one “inevitable fact” as proof.
“There will be another mass shooting. And when it happens, members of Congress will have a lot of explaining to do,” Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said in an interview.
That shooting occurred Monday, claiming 12 lives at a secure facility about a mile and a half from the Capitol. And yet sponsors of gun legislation expressed doubt about whether the Washington Navy Yard shooting would change the stubborn political reality that led to the defeat of a bipartisan proposal in April.
“It is unclear if yesterday’s tragedy changes the atmosphere sufficiently to yield a different outcome,” said Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who drafted an amendment to expand checks with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that failed to muster the 60 votes needed to be adopted.
“The Senate spoke on this issue,” he said, “and we came up five votes short.”
Manchin also said it would be “ridiculous” to revive the plan “if there’s not enough support.”
The shooter, Aaron Alexis, entered the base with a shotgun he had purchased a day earlier at a Virginia gun store, along with two boxes of ammunition. It was not clear whether the Manchin-Toomey proposal would have prevented him from obtaining it, which is one reason lawmakers expressed skepticism that the incident would revive the legislation in Congress.
The congressional agenda will be consumed by spending battles, with an Oct. 1 deadline to pass a government funding resolution and a mid-October deadline to raise the debt limit.
Even if there were time, the leadership in the Republican-controlled House has long resisted considering gun safety bills. And the Senate’s Democratic leaders see no reason to revisit the issue without the likelihood of passing legislation.
“We don't have the votes. I'd like to get them, but we don't have them now,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters.
In the months after the Manchin-Toomey proposal failed in April, outside advocates had sensed a change in voter attitudes surrounding proposed gun laws. Some senators who voted against it saw their poll numbers drop and faced criticism from constituents at town hall meetings.
Throughout the summer, outside groups held events meant to keep the issue at the forefront, like a bus tour by Mayors Against Illegal Guns that held nearly 100 events in 25 states. But the successful effort to recall two Colorado state senators who had supported gun control measures was seen as a setback.
The prospect that a mass shooting so close to the Capitol would fail to generate new momentum left some lawmakers exasperated.
“God forbid we go on with business as usual today, and not understand what happened yesterday,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said on the Senate floor.
“It’s unconscionable that we sit by and do nothing in Washington as 6,000 people have died across the country since Newtown, 13 more yesterday,” added Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.).
Murphy will be joined Wednesday by families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., and other mass shootings to push anew for background check legislation. The event was scheduled before Monday’s shooting, to coincide with the nine-month anniversary of the Newtown shooting.
“There were a number of families I heard from in Newtown that said yesterday brought them back to that day in the firehouse,” he said. “People in Newtown shake their heads when they see another shooting and further potential indifference from Congress.”