A week after the Navy Yard shootings left 13 people dead just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, there is little talk of gun control on Capitol Hill.
As fiscal fights and the specter of a government shutdown dominate Congress, advocates — including some who championed a failed effort at gun legislation earlier this year — are no longer intensely courting support on the issue.
“It’s like America has become inured to the fact that we can’t stop this kind of violence, when we can,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a vocal proponent of gun control. “The [National Rifle Association] has put such a blanket of obstruction over everything that even the simple background check can’t get out.”
Speaking at a memorial Sunday, President Obama said such an event “ought to be a shock to us all as a nation and as a people. It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.” He added, “Sometimes I fear there’s a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just somehow the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal.”
The shooting of 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School students in Newtown, Conn., captured the nation’s attention and elevated the gun debate in a way that hasn’t been seen in years. Interest groups and coalitions previously uninterested in the issue became active. The Newtown shooting was “that moment, the moment at which things changed,” said Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
That tragedy prompted Obama to speak out forcefully against gun violence and to call for new regulations. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., penned a moderate bill that would have expanded background checks. That measure failed by five votes.
But another mass shooting hasn’t sparked a new round of discussions between Manchin and senators who had voted against his bill.
“They’re all going to have find their comfort zone, and I keep the door open for everybody if they want to talk,” Manchin said. “I’m not going to beat the drum here. I would hope that they would come and say, “˜Listen, we like this; look at that, can you change this word?’ But I’m not going to create any loopholes in the bill.”
Even Feinstein, who was quick to call for gun-control measures after the Navy Yard shooting, says conversations with her colleagues about gun legislation have not begun anew. When asked why the latest shooting has not been more of a catalyst, she replied, “You’ve got me.”
Gun-rights groups like the NRA have argued that the Navy Yard shooting demonstrated the need for more armed personnel at such facilities. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said on NBC’s Meet the Press over the weekend that the Navy Yard was “completely unprotected.”
Advocates of new gun laws, however, say a long-term strategy is needed to achieve legislative victories. Everitt maintains that the movement’s narrative to bolster gun laws has been wrong.
“The media has been so obsessed with “˜Can you pass a short-term background-check bill?’ That hasn’t been the focus of our movement,” he said. Rather, the focus, he says, has been on financing campaigns for the 2014 elections and building “grassroots energy.” Both are spaces that gun-rights groups, notably the NRA, have long excelled in and will take some time to rival.
“If it does play out and we reach a situation where we head into the midterms in 2014 without any progress [on background-check legislation], we’re going to have to make a name for us, end some political careers, and bolster those who stood with us,” Everitt said.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who regularly speaks out against gun violence, said, “It’s pretty clear that we need to build a long-term political movement around antiviolence gun measures. The only way to beat the NRA is to play their game.”
There is also a widespread sense that the current Congress can’t even pass innocuous legislation, let alone tackle politically difficult and complex issues such as gun violence, and that too may contribute to a sense of resignation.
“The fact that the Navy Yard shooting doesn’t even stay in the local papers for a week tells you something about this issue,” Murphy said. “It may be that it’s not that people have become immune to the violence. It may be that they’re just hopeless about whether Washington can get its act together to do something about it.”
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