Can the UCSB shooting spree finally prod Congress on gun laws?
After yet another US mass shooting, lawmakers return to Washington Wednesday under pressure to curb rampant gun violence, but facing similar hurdles that derailed such efforts following a 2012 school massacre.
In the wake of that shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, which left 20 schoolchildren and six adults dead, President Barack Obama’s administration suffered a striking defeat when the Senate failed to pass measures expanding background checks on gun buyers and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Obama and others called it a day of shame, while opponents said the result was appropriate and rational.
But after a mentally disturbed 22-year-old man armed to the hilt killed six people outside the University of California at Santa Barbara last Friday, and a father of one of the victims scolded Congress over the “insanity” of American gun violence, some lawmakers envision Washington revisiting the contentious issue.
“Congress has an obligation to act,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, who helped spearhead gun control efforts that fell short in April 2013.
“I am absolutely determined that we will achieve common-sense, sensible measures,” Blumenthal told CNN.
He will encounter stubborn opposition from colleagues, primarily Republicans, who say efforts must focus on enforcing existing laws and implementing programs that help the mentally ill, not curtailing Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.
Democrat Mike Thompson, who heads the House gun violence prevention taskforce and who co-authored a 2013 bill expanding background checks that has not been brought to the floor, accused Republican leaders of “refusing to take any steps at all” towards preventing gun violence.
“Why didn’t Sandy Hook move these people? Why didn’t Aurora (or) Virginia Tech move these people?” Thompson told AFP, referring to mass shootings that shocked the nation but led to little legislative reform.
“It’s inexplicable that you have folks who are just unapologetic supporters of doing nothing.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who controls the Senate schedule, signalled this year that he would like to revisit background check legislation.
But with congressional elections looming in November, and influential groups like the National Rifle Association monitoring all gun-control votes, prospects for a gun legislation overhaul this year are dim.
– Debate needed –
Members of Congress could, however, debate taking some steps around the edges, such as the background check expansion, aimed at reining in the shootings that kill thousands each year.
“We need to have a renewed discussion in this Capitol,” congressman Sander Levin told MSNBC.
“I don’t think we can just sit idly by and be tied up in knots here in Washington.”
The most poignant chastisement of Congress came from Richard Martinez, whose 20-year-old son died in the California shooting.
“Where is the leadership!” demanded a grieving Martinez.
“Where are the frigging politicians that will stand up and say ‘We need to do this, we’re going to do something’?”
“Those gutless bastards have done nothing and my son died because of it,” he roared.
Congressman Peter King was one of the few Republicans to speak out after the rampage.
“We have to have this debate,” King told the Washington Post.
“We’ve got to look at how we define mental illness, who is denied weapons and who is not, and focus the discussion.”
In a reflection of Republican refusal to consider curbing long-cherished rights, Samuel Wurzelbacher — who as “Joe the Plumber” became a symbol of blue-collar frustration with Obama — hailed the Constitution’s Second Amendment as paramount.
“As harsh as this sounds, your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights,” Wurzelbacher said in an open letter to families of the Santa Barbara victims, according to Barbwire.com.