With Democrats split and Republicans opposed, chances of the Congress considering any gun legislation targeted at minimizing the toll of shootings such as the one in Aurora, Colo., last week appear virtually nonexistent.
And with the White House saying that President Barack Obama would look to enforce only existing laws to address gun violence, Republicans saw a rare space of agreement with their perpetual foe.
On Sunday, as the president was on Air Force One en route to Colorado to meet with victims of the shooting and their families, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters in a gaggle that, “The president’s view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law. And that’s his focus right now,” according to the White House transcript.
A senior Republican House aide said the White House is taking the right approach.
“We agree with the White House now is not the time for political gain,” the aide said.
But some Democrats saw that statement as taking the urgency out of any legislative push.
“With Carney saying that Obama was not going to push anything, it took the wind out of [everyone’s] sails,” a Senate Democratic aide said.
On Monday, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy downplayed any effort to move immediately on legislation or an investigation.
“I think we should get all the facts before we move anything. Not from emotion, because you want to make sure it’s done right,” the California Republican said. “Policy is always better when you study and shoot for a solution, rather than shoot for a political answer. Knowing what political nature we’re in right now and knowing we’re coming after just the weekend [after the shooting occurred], I’d like to focus on the families first, but I’d like to have all the facts before we move legislation.”
Nevertheless, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is hopeful that the tragic events will spark a conversation in the chamber that he believes is overdue after the latest incident, the January 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that left six dead and 13 injured, as well as other recent shootings such as the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
“I believe in Second Amendment rights for sportsmen, hunters and self-defense, but, you know, there comes a moment after a Member of Congress has been shot in the face and people are killed in movie theaters and classrooms for us to step back and say, ‘All right, there has to be a reasonable way to protect our constitutional rights and protect the people who live in this country,’” Durbin said off the Senate floor.
Durbin said he did not want to talk about the politics of the issue this week as feelings are still raw, but he noted that there was not the requisite reflection after previous tragedies and said he hopes this latest event will help “rouse the consciences of Members of Congress to talk in honest terms about how to make this country safer.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will call for action today on legislation he introduced last year after the Giffords shooting.
The bill would limit the number of rounds in a magazine to 10, which proponents argue would force an assailant to have to reload and provide victims with an opportunity to try to disarm the attacker.
“What do we do beside weep with these people? ... What do we want to do to prevent it in the future? That is going to be the test,” Lautenberg said Monday. “In the coming days my colleagues and I will be talking about specific measures.”
Democrats control 53 votes in the Senate and would need Republican votes to overcome any procedural hurdles. But not all Democrats agree on the issue of gun control.
“There is a diversity of opinion with in the caucus,” the Senate aide said, as some Democrats represent states that are particularly averse to any gun control measures.
“Incidents like this haven’t tended [to] spark a cry for a legislative response from moderates and those on the fence on the issue,” the aide said. “If the president is not behind it, there is no point engaging on something that also is not going to pass the House.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said it would be up to gun control proponents to make the case that any new laws would make a difference.
“The burden of proof is on them,” McCain said. “Somebody would have to prove that it would have a beneficial effect. Some of the strictest gun laws in the country are in places where the crime rate and crimes committed with guns are the highest.”
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.