July 24, 2012 -- With the flags still at half-staff flying over the US Capitol building in the wake of the Colorado shooting, an impassioned – but very small contingent – of congressional Democrats pushed for stricter gun laws today.
"This has nothing to do with second amendment rights," Rep. Carolyn McCarthy said, pointing to a giant picture of a semi-automatic rifle and a 100-round magazine similar to the one suspect James Holmes allegedly used last week. "This was made for military, for police. This was meant to kill as many people as possible in the shortest period of time."
The Democrats called for a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips and a broader national conversation to help spur support on Capitol Hill, which they're seeking even among members of their own party.
Even Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., -- who was one of the biggest cheerleaders for the assault weapons ban when it passed the House in 1994 – suggested there is no political will for new gun laws or re-instating the assault weapons ban. Under the weapons ban, which lapsed in 2004. Under the ban, it would have been illegal for James Holmes to purchase the deadliest of the weapons he used: the AR-15 assault rifle.
Schumer blamed the NRA and the Republicans who control the House of Representatives for blocking any legislation. But he's not making pressuring those groups a top priority right now. Schumer held a press conference today on tax measures, not gun laws, and he made clear he thinks the political mandate for gun laws needs to come from the people before politicians will change anything.
"I am still an advocate of the assault weapons ban. I was the author of it in the House," he said, adding that it could potentially have kept the AR-15 away from Holmes. "But we see what's in the House and we see the power of the NRA around here and it's something we ask, the way to overcome it is for citizens, the silent majority, who believe in the right to bear arms."
If comments from the Senate Majority and Minority Leader are any indication, there is neither the support from Senate leadership or the political will as of now in the Senate to get any legislation through, especially in an election year.
"I think we have to wait and see how this plays out," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said today when asked if he will move to help usher the legislation through in the Senate, "I think we should just wait for a reasonable period of time before people … make statements about what they shouldn't do, and what they should do, and also recognize what we're doing here in the Senate."
Reid said he does not expect the issue to be taken up before the August recess.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also threw cold water on the idea.
"I don't sense any movement among either Democrats or Republicans in the direction that stricter gun control laws would likely have prevented this horrible occurrence in Colorado," McConnell said. "I think that the widespread view is that somebody who is that unbalanced will find some way to do harm, and we have many areas of the country that have very strict gun control laws, and they did not have any impact on the incidents that are in question."
House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, resisted calls today from other congressional Democrats to tighten gun control laws in the wake of the shooting in Aurora, Colo., last week, couching his lack of enthusiasm for new legislation to President Obama's decision not to push for new laws either.
"We had a shooting by a deranged person in Colorado and our hearts and souls go out to the victims and those who were killed and those who were injured, and their families," Boehner said. "The president has made clear that he's not going to use this horrific event to push for new gun laws. I agree."
Pressed whether there is anything the government should do to make it harder for someone to purchase such large amounts of ammunition, the speaker stuck to his script.
"Listen, the White House had made clear they're not going to use this horrific event to push for new legislation," he repeated. "I agree with them."
Over the weekend, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that President Obama believes the government should protect the Second Amendment while also ensuring that weapons do not fall "into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons."
"The president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law," Carney said Sunday. "And that's his focus right now."
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James Holmes, 24, is suspected of killing 12 people and wounding another 58 in Friday morning's shooting at opening night of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises." With no significant police record, law enforcement sources say he acquired all four of his guns, body armor and thousands of rounds of ammunition legally.
House Democrats including Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Carolyn McCarthy of New York, both long-time gun control advocates, point to the shooting in Colorado and other mass shootings as proof that the country's gun laws are insufficient. Monday Blumenauer took to the floor to accuse the National Rifle Association of political bullying. He pointed to the shooting as a renewed opportunity "to deal with an epidemic of gun violence" in the United States.
"The NRA argues that all we need is for existing gun laws to be enforced while they systematically set about to dismantle which laws we have," Blumenaue said. "I continue to feel that there's no reason to permit armor-piercing, cop-killer bullets to be sold like Tic-tac's, that automatic weapons should be available over the counter with 100-bullet magazines like killer in Colorado had, that facilitate such sprees."
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, the No. 3 Republican in the House, said that Congress "should get all the facts" before moving any new legislation "because you want to make sure it is done right."
"This individual also booby-trapped his entire apartment. I don't know what else was put in there, how did he acquire those, what was he able to do in that process?" McCarthy, R-Calif., wondered while speaking with reporters during a pen and pad briefing Monday. "I would rather know all the facts instead of just moving legislation."