The deadly shooting rampage at Washington’s Navy Yard is prompting Senate Democratic leaders to consider a fresh attempt to advance legislation strengthening background checks for gun buyers.
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, would be “open to” scheduling another vote on a background check proposal that stalled earlier this year, or a similar measure, “if there’s any indication of movement in votes,” Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois said today in an interview at the Capitol. Durbin is the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat.
Durbin’s comments come a day after a government contractor, Aaron Alexis, opened fire inside the Navy Yard complex about a mile from the U.S. Capitol, killing 12 people. He was then shot to death by police.
“Sadly, these tragedies so close to the Capitol remind us of our vulnerability,” Durbin said.
Four months after 20 school children and six adults were shot to death at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the Senate on April 17 didn’t secure the 60 votes needed to pass the background check measure authored by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. It would have expanded mandatory background checks to include purchases from private dealers at gun shows and over the Internet.
Most gun-restriction measures are opposed by Republicans, while Democratic supporters haven’t won over some colleagues facing a potential backlash from the gun lobby and voters in their states.
“I hope that some members will reconsider their opposition,” Durbin said. “This individual appeared to have some background issues that should have raised some questions.”
The April background-check vote, the most significant gun restriction vote in 20 years, marked a sharp rejection of an Obama administration priority. It also countered 90 percent public support in some polls of mandatory background checks.
Five Democrats voted against the background-check measure: Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Baucus announced soon after the vote that he will retire at the end of his current term. Reid voted no, allowing himself under Senate rules to seek reconsideration of the vote.
“If I read the reports, he bought his guns legally and had a background check, so the issue that that gentlemen had was mental-health issues,” Begich told reporters today at the Capitol, noting that he has introduced legislation that would have made sure Alexis “would have been in the background check system” when he sought to buy a gun.
“That’s what we should be doing,” Begich said. “That’s what I’m for, and that’s what I’ve been trying to get the Senate to vote on.”
Pryor and Begich face re-election next year in states carried by 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat who leads state polls in a bid to replace the late New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, said he hoped yesterday’s shooting “changes the conversation, especially on the mental-health issue.”
“We’ve seen now a few mass shootings where there were mental-health signs that I think should have prevented an individual from getting a gun or getting a weapon,” Booker, who is running in an Oct. 16 special election for the Senate seat, said today in an interview at Bloomberg’s Washington bureau.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a freshman Democrat who pushed for tougher gun laws after the Newtown shooting, told reporters today at the Capitol that the public is running out of patience as Congress fails to act.
“The public is not going to sit by and allow this place to ignore mass shooting after mass shooting,” Murphy said. “There comes a time where the people have to get what they want in the Senate.”
Murphy said he hadn’t spoken to Democratic opponents of the background-check measure, and said that “no matter what state you’re in,” there was broad support for expanded background checks.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who after the Newtown shootings pushed to reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban, yesterday accused Congress of “shirking its responsibility” to strengthen gun laws and called for a fresh debate. The ban, which she authored, lapsed in 2004.
“This is one more event to add to the litany of massacres that occur when a deranged person or grievance killer is able to obtain multiple weapons -- including a military-style assault rifle -- and kill many people in a short amount of time,” Feinstein said in a statement. “When will enough be enough?”
Manchin told reporters today that it was too soon to say whether he would renew his background check expansion push.
“I haven’t heard all the reports, and I think we need to do that,” Manchin said. “It’s so wrong to keep talking about gun control. We should be talking about gun sense, and that’s all out bill did.”
Last week Colorado voters -- in an effort backed by the National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun lobby -- recalled two state legislators who supported stricter gun laws. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP, poured money into opposing the effort.
Arizona Senator John McCain, one of four Republicans who supported the background check measure in April, said in an interview that the Navy Yard shooting shows a need to change gun laws.
“We should do what we can to keep weapons out of the hands of people who are mentally unstable,” McCain said.
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