A day after a mass shooting left 13 dead within two miles of the Capitol, federal gun legislation is in the same place as it’s been for months: stalled in Congress.
Still stung by an April defeat in the Senate, discouraged proponents of gun control legislation say that the chances for change are still dim, even as new calls for reform echo in the wake of the Navy Yard massacre.
Aides and advocates say that little has changed from a political perspective to give supporters of gun control the five votes they would need to push through an amendment like the one crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that fell six votes short of passage in April.
"I'm listening to see if any of my colleagues are willing to change their vote on Manchin-Toomey,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate and a longtime proponent of gun control. “I've not heard anything yet.”
"I haven't, no," Manchin said when asked if he’d seen any indications that momentum had shifted in favor of his proposal in the wake of the Navy Yard killings.
The Manchin-Toomey proposal, developed in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, would have mandated criminal background checks on most private sales and incorporated mental health records into the background check system. But it was defeated under heavy pressure from gun groups who said the law would restrict Second Amendment rights and invade gun owners’ privacy.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said flatly, "We don't have the votes" to try again for expanded background checks.
The recall last week of two Colorado state senators who had promoted stronger gun regulations has done little to bolster gun control groups’ case that those who back new laws – even those deemed popular by pollsters – won’t face a political backlash at home, said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
"I think it will bring up debate,” Hoyer told reporters of the Navy Yard shooting. “Whether it will bring up action is problematic. If the past is prologue, then that prologue is not very helpful."
And time is not on legislators’ side either. With limited days left in the congressional calendar – and substantial time already used up by the debate over U.S. involvement in Syria – the issues of funding the government and raising the debt ceiling are likely to crowd out any new legislative pushes.
Despite the slim chance for change, within hours of the rampage that left 13 people dead, advocates of gun control insisted the Navy Yard killings should reignite the debate over how to keep firearms out of the hands of those who could kill innocent people.
“Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who has led efforts to ban military-style assault weapons, in a statement Monday evening.
On the Senate floor on Tuesday, Durbin suggested that the bipartisan deal that failed in April could have helped prevent the Navy Yard shooter – who reportedly had a history of mental health problems as well as two gun-related citations – from obtaining the firearm he used at the Southeast Washington, D.C., complex.
“God forbid we go on with business as usual today and not understand what happened yesterday,” he said. “What happened yesterday brings into question some important values in America. If we value our right for ourselves and our families and our children to be safe, if we value this Constitution, if we value the right of every American to enjoy their liberties with reasonable limitations, then we need to return to issues that are of importance.”
Durbin also said that he would reschedule a hearing on “Stand your Ground” self-defense laws, which was slated for Tuesday but canceled in the wake of the Navy Yard shootings.
Some advocates, including a group associated with the Newtown school shooting as well as Sybrina Fulton – the mother of Trayvon Martin, had scheduled a lobbying push on Capitol Hill around that hearing.
Survivors of gun violence and their families will hold a rally Thursday on Capitol Hill to call for action on the background-check legislation.
A spokesman for another group, the Sandy Hook Promise, which represents the families of many of the Newtown victims, said that the organization intends to remain “very involved” in the debate over gun violence.
And Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who represents Newtown, said that public opinion towards Congress will continue to sour if lawmakers do nothing to address gun violence.
“People are furious with this place and they're going to be even angrier if after yesterday we continue to do nothing,” he said.
The Obama administration has issued a total of 25 executive orders in the effort to curb gun violence, including measures to bolster insurance coverage for mental health and public awareness of mental illness. But those changes would not go as far as the Manchin-Toomey bill in restricting those with a history of mental health issues from obtaining a firearm.
NBC News’ Frank Thorp contributed to this report.
First published September 17 2013, 12:11 PM