Washington – In a week in which another mass shooting took place, and in a year in which gun control has fallen off Congress’ radar, gun control activists again came to Capitol Hill to lobby unyielding politicians.
About 50 activists from Connecticut, many from the Newtown Action Alliance, are here trying to revive a bill that would expand federal background checks of gun buyers — and to mark the nine-month anniversary of the slaying of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They have been joined by residents of other states that have been victim to mass slaughter.
“It still doesn’t feel real. That’s why I keep coming down here,” said Carlos Soto, brother of Vicky Soto, who was a teacher at Sandy Hook. He has been to Washington six times since the Newtown shootings, and many of the other activists in Washington this week have also made multiple trips.
But Congress remains stubbornly intent on doing nothing to change federal gun laws.
Carlos Soto said some of the senators who voted “no” in April to end a filibuster on a background check bill won’t even meet with him or other gun violence victims.
“They refuse because they know that their conscience will take over,” he said.
Unable to come up with the five votes they needed to stop the filibuster on the gun bill in the Senate, gun control advocates have turned to the U.S. House of Representatives, where a background check bill has attracted 186 sponsors.
“Unfortunately only three are Republicans,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., the main sponsor of the House background check bill.
While a filibuster stalled action in the Senate, gun control advocates say the logjam in the House is the refusal of Republican leaders to allow a vote on gun control legislation.
“If you’ve got a better idea, damn it, show it to us,” Thompson said at an emotional news conference Wednesday.
Dozens of tearful family members of shooting victims, most holding photos of those slain, held the event to reiterate their determination to continue to press for gun control.
The activists, who came from Colorado, Utah, Illinois and Virginia and other violence-ravaged places, as well as Connecticut, say that more than 8,000 people have been killed by guns this year, and that every day of inaction leads to more deaths.
“Everyone wants to talk about the Second Amendment, right? What about our children? They have a right to live,” said Sandra Robinson, whose 18-year-old son was killed in Chicago.
Connecticut’s two Democratic senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, also attended the news conference, as did Reps. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, and Jim Himes, D-4th District.
On Wednesday, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a report that said thousands of felons who are barred by current laws from purchasing weapons at dealers have turned to the Internet, in particular to a website called Armslist.com to buy their guns.
But public opinion does not seem to support the bill that would broaden FBI background checks to gun show and Internet sales.
A recent Gallup poll show support for new gun laws jumped after the Sandy Hook tragedy. But a Pew Research Center poll shows that support has slipped. And even in the aftermath of Newtown, there were fewer people calling for new gun laws than there were in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Still, Blumenthal said, attitudes will change.
“More and more people know someone who is a victim of gun violence,” he said. “We will prevail, history is on our side.”
Murphy said he was asked if support for gun control in Congress was boosted by Monday’s deadly shooting of 12 people in the Washington Navy Yard.
“Nothing has changed. The dynamics in the Senate are the same as before the shootings in the Navy Yard,” he said.
He, and many activists, have determined that there may not be any action in Congress anytime soon. “We may need an election to intervene to change the dynamics of the Senate and the House,” Murphy said.