Lawmakers returning to Washington for the first time after last week’s deadly movie-theater shooting mourned the victims, but there seemed little indication Congress is ready to take gun control off the back burner, where it’s been sitting for more than a decade as Congress passed a handful of minor laws that mostly expanded access to firearms.
While some Democrats in Congress said Monday that the shooting, which killed a dozen and left 58 wounded, cries out for legislation, the White House has already ruled out pushing for more gun-control laws, and Republicans said the time isn’t ripe.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, stayed away from politics on Monday, instead using his morning chamber address to offer his condolences to the victims and their families.
When asked whether GOP leaders would allow any gun-control legislation to the floor, House Whip Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said it’s too soon after the tragedy and warned against shooting for a “political answer.”
“Knowing what political nature we’re in right now, and knowing we’re coming in from just the weekend, I’d like to focus on the families first, but I’d like to have all the facts before we move legislation,” Mr. McCarthy said.
Their leaders’ reluctance on the issue miffed rank-and-file Democrats. Rep. Earl Blumenauer called it “appalling” that Congress hasn’t taken up an assault-weapons ban.
“I continue to feel that there’s no reason to permit armor-piercing, cop-killer bullets to be sold like Tic Tacs,” the Oregon Democrat said.
Indeed, lawmakers did more on the other side of the ledger, with the Democratic Congress passing and President Obama signing bills that allowed Amtrak passengers to store firearms in checked luggage and let guns be carried in national parks and wildlife refuges.
During the 2007-08 session, when Democrats controlled Congress and President Bush held the White House, the Senate approved a measure that would clarify a law authorizing police officers to carry concealed firearms across state lines, while the House passed a bill curtailing some of the District of Columbia’s gun-control laws. Neither bill became law.
Before that, when the GOP-controlled Congress and Mr. Bush was in the White House, Republicans pushed through a law to prohibit federal officials from seizing firearms from owners during a major disaster or emergency, which lawmakers introduced after Hurricane Katrina.
Another law prohibited some lawsuits against firearm manufacturers and dealers when their products are used criminally. That was coupled with a requirement that all handguns be sold with child-safety locks.
The 1990s were a different story.
Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Brady Bill, which requires federal background checks on gun purchases, and the 1994 crime bill, which included the so-called assault-weapons ban, prohibiting sales of some military-style semiautomatic rifles.
The dearth of legislation over the past decade partly reflects the growing influence of the National Rifle Association, whose voter guides can sway elections in many congressional districts.
In a statement, the NRA said it was not doing interviews in the aftermath of last week’s shooting in Aurora, Colo.
“We believe that now is the time for families to grieve and for the community to heal. There will be an appropriate time down the road to engage in political and policy discussions,” the organization said.
Top gun-control advocates, though, have said the shooting should change that.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, New York Democrat, took to the airwaves over the weekend, urging their colleagues to work to ban high-capacity firearms and chiding them for allowing the 10-year ban on assault weapons to expire in 2004.
Last year, Republican leaders blocked efforts by Democrats to bring gun-control bills to the floor after the January 2011 Tucson, Ariz., shooting that killed six and severely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
At that time, Mrs. McCarthy, whose husband was killed in a 1993 shooting on the Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg introduced legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, along with measures that would close several gun-law loopholes.
Instead, House Republicans passed bills that would prohibit any federal agency from banning recreational shooting on federally managed public lands, and another that would permit gun owners to carry concealed firearms across state lines if both states allow concealed carry.
The Senate has not taken up those bills.