September 17, 2013

Shootings revive gun debate, but not hope for tougher laws

ED O'KEEFE The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The deadly shootings at the Washington Navy Yard have quickly, and predictably, resurrected the debate about tighter federal gun laws, but there is little expectation that the tragic event will generate enough political momentum to produce any new legislation.

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In a Friday, April 5, 2013 file photo, Newtown, Conn., resident Jennifer Killin wipes tears on the steps of Hartford, Conn., City Hall, during a rally to urge passage of federal legislation to curb gun violence. Activists from Newtown, where 26 people were gunned down in a mass shooting at an elementary school in December 2013, headed to Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2014 to lobby again for gun control. The trip was planned to mark roughly nine months since the Dec. 14 rampage, but took on new urgency in the wake of the massacre in the capital that killed 13 on Monday. (AP Photo/Journal Inquirer, Jared Ramsdell, File) MANDATORY CREDIT

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Even before Monday's Navy Yard shootings, gun control activists were scheduled to be on Capitol Hill this week for public rallies and private meetings with lawmakers as they mark nine months since the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 26 people dead, including 20 schoolchildren.

The events come at a time of shifting public sentiment on guns. Public support for stricter laws has faded since April, when the Senate failed to advance a bipartisan proposal to expand the federal background check system for gun sales. The recent recall of two Colorado state legislators who supported stricter state gun laws is also viewed as a warning to lawmakers who favor stricter gun control laws.

The legislative calendar is of little help to them as well: The House and Senate face a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a short-term budget and are preparing for a much sharper battle over expanded borrowing authority for the federal government that could stretch into November. Republican leaders in the House did not permit votes on gun control bills last spring and are expected to move on to immigration reform once the fiscal fights are over.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was eager to consider new gun legislation but acknowledged he does not have enough support to pass a bill. "We're going to move this up as quickly as we can, but we've got to have the votes first," Reid said Tuesday. "We don't have the votes. I hope we get them, but we don't have them now."

Reid said supporters of new gun laws "want to stop people who have mental illness from buying a gun. We want to stop people who are felons from being able to purchase a gun."

In an interview with the Spanish-language television network Telemundo, President Barack Obama called on Congress to take up the issue again. "The overwhelming majority of the American people understand that there's some common-sense gun safety laws that we can put in place that could prevent some of this tragedy from happening," he said, adding later: "I do get concerned that this becomes a ritual that we go through every three, four months, where we have these horrific mass shootings."

But that majority has gotten smaller in recent months. Just over half favored new laws in polls taken after the shootings last year in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. In an April Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly nine in 10 supported closing the so-called gun-show loophole. Smaller majorities supported other measures, such as banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

While specific gun measures are popular, the lack of new federal laws in the wake of the Connecticut killings underscores divided public views. The Post-ABC poll found a bare majority saying it was a higher priority to enact new gun laws to reduce violence, but a substantial 40 percent said it was more important to protect the rights of gun owners. And 51 percent said having a gun at home makes it a safer place.

Aware of those shifts in public opinion, Democratic proponents called on their colleagues to support a new gun debate, but seemed to temper their remarks.

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