As Mass Shootings Continue, Congress Remains Gun Shy about Enacting New Laws

Friday, September 20, 2013
Gun violence rally in Los Angeles (photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP)

Unlike the period following the school shooting last year in Newtown, Connecticut, the aftermath of this week’s mass shooting is not expected to include a long political debate, let alone actual legislative action, to tighten gun laws in the United States.


On Capitol Hill, which was only 1.5 miles from the Washington Navy Yard slaughter, lawmakers don’t plan to introduce new bills or revive those that failed following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December.


Many Democrats say they would like to take another try at adopting tougher gun-control measures. But they add that there’s no point in trying right now because support in Congress hasn’t changed, even after 12 people were gunned down on Monday.


“We don’t have the votes,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) told reporters after meeting with his caucus. “I hope we get them but we don’t have them now.”


Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, one of the few Republicans to join with Democrats earlier this year on failed legislation to expand background checks, concurred with Reid’s assessment the day after the latest shooting.


“It is unclear if yesterday's tragedy changes the atmosphere sufficiently to yield a different outcome,” Toomey told The Los Angeles Times.


Monday’s shooter, Aaron Alexis, entered the Navy Yard with a shotgun he purchased only two days earlier at a Virginia gun store, along with two boxes of ammunition. He was able to do so despite having a history of mental illness, as well as a criminal record of gun-related charges.


Senator Christopher S. Murphy (D-Connecticut) said it was “unconscionable” for Congress to do nothing after what happened.


“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 told the LA Times. “People in Newtown shake their heads when they see another shooting and further potential indifference from Congress.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Navy Yard Shooting Unlikely to Revive Gun Control Legislation (by Michael A. Memoli, Los Angeles Times)

Harry Reid Admits: ‘We Don’t Have the Votes’ for New Gun Legislation (by Agence France-Presse)

Navy Yard Shooting Unlikely to Jump-Start the Debate over Tougher Gun Control Laws (by Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post)

Foreigners Say They Are No Longer Surprised at U.S. Gun Violence (by Anthony Faiola and Karla Adam, Washington Post)

Three-Quarters of Weapons Used in Mass Killings in U.S. were Bought Legally (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)        

Large Numbers of Americans Think Existing Guns Laws are Stronger than They Really Are (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)      

Is the AR-15 becoming the Weapon of Choice for Deranged, Young Male Mass Murderers? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)    


Darlington 8 years ago
1. All guns must have a serial numebr, and a copy of the # must be embedded inside the metal of the gun too so scratching it off won't make it impossible to identify the gun.2. Handguns must be test fired once by the manufacturer and the bullet stored to create a database of ballistics profiles.3. Guns must be purchased with a $10,000 insurance policy that will be paid to any unjustified victim of the gun. Should the policy have to be paid out (say your kid takes the gun and injurs the neighbors kids), the owner either has to trash the gun or buy a new policy for $100,000 of coverage.4. Gun sales and transfers will go thru dealers via instant background checks. The insurance policy goes with the gun so if you sell your gun on the black market and five years later it turns up in a crime you're on the hook for illegal sales and have to buy the $100,000 policy on future gun purchases.5. Guns without serial numebrs, untracked guns etc. would be a serious crime.On the other side:1. No gun databases. The firearm dealer checks the background and provides proof of transfer of the gun but the information will not be saved so you cannot create a database of who has what guns in their homes. You can only prove that the guns found inside a home are legal or illegal. Sort of like how cigarettes or booze has a tax stamp. That proves it was purchased legally but the gov't doesn't know you're buying a little or a lot of the stuff.2. Background pre-clearing'. Register who you are and get a #, unless you get convicted of a violent crime or something like that you can use that # for quick clearing of your purchases or transfers at a reduced or no cost.3. Anti-gun laws voided cross the country. States can decide about concealed carry but cannot make it illegal to have guns in your house provided you followed 1-5 above.4. Assalt weapons, mega-clips etc. can be legalized provided one carries the $100,000 coverage on them.Would it have prevented the Newtown shooting? Probably not, the mother was quite well off and could have easily afforded the insurance and neither her nor the kid had any history that would have caused them to fail a background check. But it would almost certainly frustrate some rampage killings and limit a lot of more mundance gun crime an accidents. I suspect the insurance policies would not cost very much given that most guns almost never end up in crimes or accidents but those who establish a habit of letting their guns get into wrong places the premiums would become steeper (which they should given they would be by definition less responsible gun owners).I don't get volokh's concern about costs to lower income gun owners. Look, a gun is a material thing, material things cost money. The nature of money is that the more of it you have, the easier it is to get more material things. Guns aren't cheap, even the lowest end oens cost a few hundred dollars. If you can't afford that then you can't afford a gun. Get a better job or cut back on other spending.
Rob 10 years ago
Oh, and by the way, Alexis didn't have "a criminal record of gun-related charges." He was never charged, not once. And that's the problem. The criminal justice system is what failed, not the gun laws, which would have caught him if the police and prosecutors had actually done their jobs during one of his several run-ins with the law. But no background check system can ever work if the people charged with making sure dangerous people are properly flagged don't do their jobs. And while he had a "history of mental illness," he was never legally adjudicated mentally ill. Just like with the "criminal record" phrase, you can't just throw term around like that as if they make a difference without also mentioning that in a nation of laws and constitutional rights the government has to give you DUE PROCESS before depriving you of anything. You can't just have a "history" of something. That can be as vague as someone who doesn't like just claiming that you're a bad person. Somewhere along the line someone in some official capacity has to formally DOCUMENT that you are bad/dangerous/criminal/insane. If none of them ever do this, as was the case with Alexis, then you can't expect someone who's never even had contact with the guy to second guess all these officials who have and chose not to flag him. If they all decided not to, then the logical assumption is that they didn't believe he should be. Of course, now we know that they were all just incompetent, lazy, or restricted by their own bureaucracy, but if we start letting the government treat everyone who ever went to a doctor or was talked to by the police as if they had actually been committed or convicted, then we might as well just lock everyone up now. The gun laws in this instance worked perfectly, exactly the way they were meant to, and would have caught him (just as they would have the killers in Tucson, Aurora, Virginia Tech, etc.) if every other system hadn't failed. They were, in fact, the only thing that DID work. But when every other system on which such laws must necessarily depend is broken, no gun law can ever be expected to catch someone like this. And continuing to complain about gun laws that actually work, when the problem is in fact with the rest of the system, simply distracts us from fixing what actually is broken with ignorant fear-based calls to fix what isn't, and ensures that we will never make any progress in reducing these tragedies.
Rob 10 years ago
Please, tell us which of the proposed gun laws would have had any effect on this shooting. The ban on so-called "assault weapons?" Nope, he didn't use one. The ban on "high-capacity" magazines? Nope, his gun only held 5 rounds in a non-detachable magazine. Bans on semi-automatics? Nope, again, not what he used. Bans on handguns, or at least the racially named "Saturday Night Specials?" Nope, he used a shotgun, the one gun even the anti-gunners usually suggest we keep legal. Universal background checks? Nope, he went though, and passed, a background check. Gun-show loophole (same as UBC)? Nope, didn't buy it at a gun show (just like 99.2% of other criminals, according to the US DOJ). Ban on internet sales? Nope, he bought it from a federally licensed dealer at a brick-and-motar store who followed all state and federal laws. Licensing, registration? Nope, he would have passed the background checks for those too, for the same reason (failure of the criminal justice and mental health systems). Mental health screening? Nope. Even though not required to buy a gun, he had been screened by mental health professionals who determined that he was not a danger to himself or others, so he passed that as well (which tells you something about the mental health system). Background check for ammo purchases? Nope, he passed a background check. Ban on purchases of more than X number of rounds of ammo? Nope, he only bought 24 rounds. In short, not a single gun law that has been even remotely realistically proposed in the last 50 years would have had any effect whatsoever on how this incident played out. He would have just as easily been able to purchase the gun and ammo he used even if they had all been in place. And to the make the point, we need only look at Cumbria, England. They have every one of those laws, plus others that amendments to our Constitution, like the 1st, 4th and 5th, wouldn't allow. And yet in 2010, a man with a legally purchased, licensed, registered, etc., etc., shotgun, with licensed, registered, rationed, etc., etc., ammunition, killed 12 people and wounded 11 - virtually identical numbers as at the Navy Yard - in a country with the strictest gun laws in the industrialized Western world. Anyone who believes that more gun laws will stop these incidents is an idiot, and anyone who knows these facts and claims that they will is a liar.
ed walters 10 years ago
You can stop all this gun violence once you address the real problems in this country which are the gang bangers, mentally ill and how about enforcing the already 50 plus gun laws already on the books. The guy in DC shouldn't have been able to buy a gun because of previous gun violations that weren't flagged on his background check. Stop blaming the law abiding citizens for the actions of people you insist on letting get away with murder, and stop making victims of the rest of us by disarming us and setting up gun free zones which we all know don't work.
Ash 10 years ago
These mass shootings are not a gun control issue, they are a mental health issue. 1 in 3 Americans suffer from some form of mental health disorder and many do not have access to the treatment they need. Taking away guns is not going to stop this, they will merely find another way. We need to start focusing on getting these people the help they need.

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