Pelosi, Dems join with gun victims in urging tougher laws

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged GOP leaders on Wednesday to consider tougher gun laws in the wake of Monday's fatal shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

Flanked by victims of gun violence from across the country, the California Democrat called on Republicans to stage a vote on a bipartisan proposal expanding background checks on potential gun buyers. 

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By ignoring the issue, she said, Congress is "unworthy" of the ritual moments of silence that have followed the many mass shootings of recent years.

"We don't need a moment of silence; we need a day of action," she said during a press conference in the Capitol. "I believe that if the bill were brought to the floor, it would pass, and it would pass in a bipartisan way. 

"Let's take a vote," she said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) piled on, noting that public opinion polls have shown overwhelming support for expanding background checks in the wake of December's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"Something is broken with democracy when 90 percent of the American public thinks that people should get a background check before they buy a gun and we can't get a vote here," Murphy said. 

Sponsored by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.), the background check bill would require private sellers operating at gun shows and online to screen potential buyers to ensure they aren't felons, spousal abusers or fall under any other category of prohibited buyer. Under current federal law, only licensed gun dealers are required to conduct those screenings.

Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) had endorsed universal background checks after the 1999 shooting massacre at Columbine High School, the gun lobbying group now opposes an expansion of such screenings. Along with most Republicans, the group contends the change would shift new burdens on gun owners and threaten Second Amendment rights.

Thompson, a longtime gun owner who heads the House Democratic task force on gun violence, rejects both claims.

"I believe in the Second Amendment, and if I thought for a minute what we were doing was taking away someone's constitutional rights ... I wouldn't be doing it," he said Wednesday.

An identical bill, sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), was shot down by the upper chamber in April after winning 55 supporters — five shy of the number needed to defeat a GOP filibuster. 

Manchin has said this week that Monday's shooting at the Navy Yard has not changed the calculus surrounding the vote. The GOP-controlled House, meanwhile, has not acted on the issue since the Newtown shooting.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) argued Wednesday that Congress should consider not only gun-specific legislation but also take greater steps to diagnose and treat mental illness before it can lead people to violence.

"Shootings in America are becoming a new normal," Blumenthal said Wednesday. "The risk is that we accept the banality of this evil in our society."

The shooter in the recent incident, a former Navy reservist, had a history of violence, gun infractions and mental illness, according to reports. 

Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), who represents Newtown, decried the lack of action on the issue but vowed that the fight is long from over.

"NRA, message to you: We are not going away," Esty said.