Updated 9:15 p.m.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., led a moment of silence on the House floor Tuesday evening in memory of the 12 victims at the Navy Yard Monday, just a mile-and-a-half from the Capitol Building.
In some ways, the reaction to the mass shooting, carried out by Navy reservist and civilian contractor Aaron Alexis (who was killed by police), feels familiar. As they had done after recent attacks in Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., lawmakers expressed deep sympathies for another national tragedy. Some Democratic lawmakers again called for gun control while Republicans leaders were silent on the question of a renewed debate.
So many months after a massacre at a Connecticut elementary school shocked the country and sparked a public debate about the culture of guns, the possibilities for successful legislation seem further from reach, the outrage more muted, and the gun lobby confident.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a proponent of gun control, spoke Tuesday about a desire to revisit the expanded background check legislation that failed in Congress earlier this year.
“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 of importance,” the Democrat said on the Senate floor. Pointing to the the failed bill spearheaded by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, Durbin argued that it “would have taken an extra step to keep guns out of the hands of people who have felonies or people who are mentally unstable.”
Sen. Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat who had proposed reinstating the assault weapons ban, issued a statement saying “Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.”
Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of California, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said in a statement that the shooting again showed that “Congress cannot keep standing on the sidelines while more and more lives are senselessly cut short by gun violence. We know there is no one law or set of laws that will stop every act of gun violence. But that cannot be used as an excuse to do nothing.”
Holmes said her community has not had a day as tragic as Monday since the 9/11 terror attacks and tied the shooting to the broader issue of gun violence. “I hope that we all understand that with all these guns loose in the society, it does not take a terrorist to do what was done here today.”
A slew of Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, offered up their sympathies to the victims and families, but did not mention gun control or renewed debate.
History is not an optimist’s guide. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, then-Vice President Al Gore cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to strengthen background checks. The measure, however, was stalled in the House. Obama addressed the country after former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was nearly killed in the Tuscon shooting that took the lives of six people, including a federal judge.
After the 2012 Newtown massacre, which left 20 children dead, Obama implored Congress to act. The Toomey-Manchin bipartisan bill to expand background checks failed to become law when the Senate could not get the 60 votes it needed to overcome the threat of a GOP filibuster. Just last week in Colorado, voters ousted two state senators who had pushed for tougher gun control laws in the state.
At an event hosted by Politico, House Minority Whip, Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, said Tuesday he thinks the Navy Yard shooting will reignite a new conversation on gun control. But the Maryland congressman, also acknowledged that the Colorado recall sent a tough message to elected officials about the potential costs of gun control.
“No one can analyze who comes out to special elections, but it does not bode well for asking people to vote for legislation similar to that which went down in the Senate just a few months ago,” said Hoyer.
Still, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which has been out front in pushing for greater gun control, continued to make its case. ”It’s entirely possible that no law would have changed” what happened in Washington, Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told MSNBC. “But that’s a false argument,” he said, noting that tougher gun laws would certainly curtail some deadly shootings in some places. Glaze said that other industrialized countries, such as Britain and Australia, have much lower gun murder rates because “they make it harder for people who should not have guns to get guns and we make it extremely easy.”
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was blunt on expanded background checks when he told reporters Tuesday. “We don’t have the votes.”