Nothing in 2013 matched the horror of Sandy Hook or Aurora, but the year proved to be a dispiriting one for gun-control crusaders hoping to capitalize on the intense outpouring of grief wrought by 2012's shooting massacres.
After Newtown, President Obama gave an impassioned speech promising to do everything in his power to prevent "more tragedies like this." We'd watched these scenes of public mourning before—after Tucson, after Aurora—but it was different this time. Obama's bold declaration that "we are not doing enough and we will have to change" seemed more forceful than before. And coming just six weeks after his reelection, it seemed more possible.
But once the National Rifle Association and others got a whiff of any serious threat to firearm freedoms, they moneyed up. Although gun-control groups spent five times as much on federal lobbying in 2013 as they did in 2012, according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, gun-rights groups outpaced them by more than 7-to-1.
As usual, the NRA's efforts paid off. Watered-down legislation that would have expanded background checks failed in the Senate this past spring, and the issue retook its place in Congress as a perennial nonstarter.
And the shootings continued.
But Congress delivered gun-reform advocates one final 2013 disappointment this week. The Senate on Monday voted to renew the Undetectable Firearms Act just hours before the 25-year-old law was set to expire. The 10-year extension, which even the National Rifle Association endorsed, is largely genteel. It keeps on the books a ban on firearms that can sneak through metal detectors, but efforts by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to close what he called a "dangerous loophole" allowing a person to use 3-D printing technology to craft a plastic gun failed to get off the ground. Schumer wanted to amend the law to require that firearms have permanent metal pieces in them.
Gun-control advocates have seen some movement outside of Congress. In September, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz declared guns unwelcome in his stores, even in states with open-carry laws. Colorado's State House passed stricter gun laws, though members did so at great political peril. Connecticut adopted some of the strictest in the nation, despite being home to several gun manufacturers. And Obama did pass a number of executive orders that make small inroads, such as restricting the import of military surplus weapons and ordering federal agencies to share more data with the background-check system.
But national lawmakers in 2013 did what they do every year when it comes to tightening gun restrictions: nothing.
"It should be a source of great embarrassment to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that we have not moved the ball forward one inch when it comes to the issue of protecting the thousands of people all across this country who are killed by guns every year," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., before Monday's vote of the Undetectable Firearms Act, which passed by unanimous consent.
2012's gun violence brought us unprecedented grief. But 2013 reminded us just how impossible it is to move that ball forward. If a deranged man killing 20 kids and six teachers at an elementary school won't prompt meaningful gun reform, it's hard to imagine what will.