WASHINGTON — This month, a leading advocate of stricter gun safety laws argued that momentum had not stalled in Congress and cited an "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," said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
That shooting occurred Monday, claiming the lives of 12 people plus the gunman at a secure facility about a mile and a half from the Capitol. Yet sponsors of gun legislation expressed doubt that 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 joined with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) to draft an amendment to expand background checks that failed to muster the required 60 votes.
"The Senate spoke on this issue," Toomey 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 Navy Yard with a shotgun he bought two days earlier at a Virginia gun store, along with two boxes of ammunition. It was not clear whether the Manchin-Toomey proposal would have stopped that purchase, which is one reason lawmakers expressed skepticism that the incident would resurrect the legislation.
The congressional agenda is full for the next few weeks, 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 resisted gun safety bills. And the Democrats who run the Senate see no reason to revisit the issue.
"We don't have the votes," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) said. "I'd like to get them, but we don't have them now."
In the months after the Manchin-Toomey proposal failed, outside advocates had sensed a change in voter attitudes toward proposed gun laws. Some senators who voted against expanded background checks saw their poll numbers drop and faced criticism from constituents at town hall meetings.
Throughout the summer, outside groups sponsored activities to keep the issue at the forefront, including a bus tour by Mayors Against Illegal Guns with nearly 100 events in 25 states. But the recent successful effort to recall two Colorado state senators who had supported gun control measures was seen as a setback.
The Navy Yard shooting was so close to the Capitol that the Senate recessed and went into lockdown. That such proximity to another tragic incident failed 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, said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) added, "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."
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 again for background check legislation. The event was scheduled before Monday's shooting to coincide with the nine-month mark since Newtown, which left 20 children and six educators dead, along with the gunman and his mother.
"There were a number of families I heard from in Newtown that said yesterday brought them back to that day in the firehouse," where parents waited for their children, he said. "People in Newtown shake their heads when they see another shooting and further potential indifference from Congress."
On Monday, President Obama promised, "We're going to be investigating thoroughly what happened, as we do in so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened, and do everything that we can to try to prevent them."
The president did not mention plans to begin another effort to pass gun control. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney suggested any action on the issue would have to come from lawmakers.
Obama "has not, in the least, hidden his displeasure and disappointment in Congress for its failure to pass legislation that's supported by 80% to 90% of the American people," Carney said, adding that questions about the issue "should be addressed to those senators who chose to ignore the will of their constituents."
Times staff writer Christi Parsons contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun