A day after a shooting massacre at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard that left 13 people dead, including the shooter, the gun control debate was suddenly a hot topic again among pundits.
Even so, passage of new gun laws seems unlikely. A major effort to expand background checks on gun buyers, crafted in the wake of the December elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., crumbled in the Senate earlier this year. Efforts to revive it have proved fruitless ever since, and even some of the bill’s biggest advocates admitted Tuesday that the latest massacre probably hadn’t changed that.
So why does the push for new federal gun laws seem like such an impossible cause, even after the latest horrific shooting massacre? Here are five big reasons:1. The Budget Fight Will Consume Everything
Congress is gearing up for what can only be described as an epic showdown on funding the government and the federal budget as well as Obamacare. Those legislative skirmishes are likely to consume everything and eclipse any other policy initiatives on Capitol Hill.
2. The Votes Aren’t There
The Senate came up six votes short of being able to overcome a filibuster and pass the background check legislation in April. The following month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the proponents of the bill had likely found “a couple more votes” in its favor. But even those extra votes wouldn’t put it over the 60-vote threshold it would need to pass. On Tuesday, Reid made it clear that hadn’t changed. “We don’t have the votes,” he told reporters, according to Roll Call.
Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), one of the most vocal advocates of tightening gun laws, said Tuesday that there should only be another gun control vote this Congress “if the votes are there.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters he’s “listening to see if my colleagues are willing to change their vote” on the legislation. So far though, Durbin said he had “not heard anything yet, but hope springs eternal.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he hadn’t be won over. “The background [check] system — it doesn’t need to be expanded,” Graham said. “It needs to be fixed.”
3. The NRA Has Been Emboldened By Recent Victories
Monday’s massacre came less than a week after two Democrats in the Colorado state Senate were successfully recalled for helping to narrowly pass new gun laws there.
The recalls were seen as a largely symbolic win for groups like the National Rifle Association that supported the recalls, and it was a serious loss for groups supported gun control. Already, there has been talk elsewhere that Democrats were being cautious about passing gun laws, even in states where they have a supermajority.
4. The Navy Yard Shooting Was A Massive, Complicated Crime
Authorities on Tuesday were being cautious about the details being released, but it was clear they were dealing with an immense and complicated crime. The shooter, Aaron Alexis, reportedly had a history of mental illness and a deep fascination with violent video games. There were also conflicting reports about how many guns were used in the crime and where those guns came from.
Opponents of gun control laws quickly seized on some details of the shooter’s history as proof that background checks never would have stopped the shooter from buying a gun. The National Review, for instance, pointed to reports that Alexis passed a security clearance for his job as a military contractor and also likely would have passed a background check to buy a shotgun last week in Virginia.
5. Immigration Reform Would Take Priority Over Gun Control
Among President Obama’s priorities for the year, immigration reform is one that has a more realistic chance of passing. It even passed the Senate earlier this year before becoming stalled in the House. Both Democrats and Republicans have said something needs to be done to change the nation’s immigration system, even if they don’t necessarily agree on what that should be.
Reviving gun control, on the other hand, faces much more widespread opposition on the right and has even struggled to win the support of Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014. Unlike the immigration package, the gun legislation didn’t even make it out of the Senate. And even if a new push could pass the Senate, it’s unlikely that the Republican-led and more-conservative House would take up a gun proposal.
TPM reporter Sahil Kapur contributed to this report.