Washington – Gun control advocates in Congress, with Connecticut’s lawmakers taking a lead, are hoping the massacre in Orlando is a “tipping point” that overcomes the deep resistance in Congress to strengthening the nation’s federal gun law.
But it’s not likely Congress will budge.
Democratic supporters of tougher gun laws quickly coordinated a campaign on Monday to press for several proposals that have been rejected or ignored – expanding FBI background check of gun purchasers, a ban on the sale of assault weapons and on the purchase of weapons while on the FBI’s terrorist watch list.
In a partisan attack, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., circulated the tally of a vote taken in December that showed Senate Republicans who voted against banning those on the terror watch list form purchasing a gun, resulting in a 45-53 defeat of the legislation.
“This is a measure that can be taken right away,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., about a ban of gun sales to those on the terror list.
Connecticut lawmakers repeatedly said that Congress, by not taking action, is complicit in the Orlando attack, the worst in U.S. history.
On the House floor Monday afternoon, Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, derided his colleagues’ plans to hold a moment of silence for those who “who had their bodies torn apart by a madman with a military-grade weapon.”
“Silence. That is what we offer an America that supports many of the things we could do to slow the bloodbath. Silence. Not me. Not anymore,” Himes said. “I will no longer stand here absorbing the faux concern, contrived gravity and tepid smugness of a House complicit in the weekly bloodshed.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers who support gun rights did not have an immediate, unified response to the renewed call for gun control. The National Rifle Association, which often provides leadership on the issue to those lawmakers, declined to comment on the mass shooting by Omar Mateen that left 49 dead and 53 wounded.
Some in the GOP characterized the shooting as a terror attack perpetrated by radical Islamists that could not be stopped by changing the nation’s gun laws.
“This is not a time for politics; it is a time for mourning,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. “Too many are already going out and blaming the NRA, ‘the Christian right’ or denying that radical Islam is involved or responsible.”
Echoing fellow Republicans in Washington, State Rep. Dan Carter, who is challenging Blumenthal, condemned what he said was the senator’s politicization of the shooting.
“Sadly for Connecticut and our nation, there are politicians in Washington who care more about winning a war of words than a war against terror,” Carter said. “Innocent Americans were attacked by a radical Islamic terrorist on American soil. This was an act of war and we must respond accordingly.”
President Obama said it was not an “either-or” situation.
“The suggestion is either we think about something as terrorism and we ignore the problems of easy access to firearms,” Obama said. “Or it is all about firearms and we ignore (organizations) like ISIL…and the extremist views inside this country. It’s not an either-or.”
Meanwhile Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is calling for reinstatement of a federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.
“We’ve got to keep weapons of war off our streets, as well as blocking suspected terrorists from buying guns,” Clinton said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”
Connecticut lawmakers joined Clinton’s call.
Blumenthal called the assault rifle used by Mateen “a weapon of destruction designed to kill,” that should be banned.
While an assault weapons ban would block the future sale of these types of weapons, Blumenthal said it would not “realistically” be able to take existing assault weapons out of the hands of owners.
He also said a complete reform package would include measures to prevent weapons trafficking and so-called “straw” gun purchases while creating new mental health initiatives and school safety policies.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said “assault weapons are becoming the weapon of choice for terrorists in this country.”
“Would-be terrorists are not sitting in their basement making bombs. They are walking into gun stores and purchasing assault weapons legally,” he said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, called for a ban on high-capacity magazines and a lifting of a ban on federal funding for gun-violence research.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, called for expanded FBI background checks of gun buyers, to include sales at gun shows and by individuals over the Internet.
“It is past time for Congress to take its head out of the sand,” he said.
While gun safety advocates had a quick co-ordinated response to the Orlando shooting, there may not be the “tipping point in the battle,” Blumenthal hopes has been reached.
“If Democrats were in the majority in the House or Senate, they would quickly bring up a ban on guns for those on terror watch lists,” said Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Ornstein said that no matter how much pressure the Orlando massacre puts on the GOP, there’s no chance House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will bring up any gun control legislation.
“But those senators who are up this year and voted against blocking guns to those on watch lists, like (New Hampshire Senator) Kelly Ayotte, will be very much on the defensive. And this issue will be a big one during the presidential campaign,” Ornstein said.
Despite GOP opposition to debating gun control, Reid late Monday said Senate Democrats “are going to, as soon as we can, force vote on this terror loophole”
“We’re going to do this as soon as possible. There is no excuse for allowing suspected terrorists to buy guns,” he said.
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump on Monday seemed to give Obama a share of the blame for the shooting.
“”Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” Trump said on Fox News.
Josh Koskoff, the lawyer representing the group of parents suing the manufacturer of the Bushmaster rifle Adam Lanza used to shoot 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, said Mateen used a similar .223-caliber AR-type rifle, designed for the U.S. military to “kill mass numbers of people with maximum efficiency and ease.”
“They continue to extol the combat virtues of the AR-15 through careful marketing practices that target young, violence-prone men,” Mateen said. “As the lawsuit brought by several families destroyed by the Sandy Hook massacre seeks to do, it is time for gun manufacturers to be held responsible for these choices.”
That’s another gun control issue Connecticut lawmakers are spearheading. Congress has given gun manufacturers and dealers protection from liability when crimes are committed with their products, which could derail the Sandy Hook lawsuit.
Blumenthal and Murphy are the lead sponsors of a repeal of the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA.
Mirror reporter Kyle Constable contributed to this story.