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Durbin: Expanded background checks might have prevented Navy Yard tragedy

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Tuesday said gun control legislation defeated in the Senate earlier this year might have prevented Monday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

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Durbin, a leading proponent of gun control, called on the Senate to reconsider legislation sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to expand background checks.

“We need to return to issues that are of importance,” Durbin said on the Senate floor. “There was an issue before the Senate several months ago, a bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. Manchin and Toomey, that would have taken an extra step to keep guns out of the hands of those who have a history of felonies and who are mentally ill.”

Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old gunman who killed 12 people at the Navy Yard, reportedly suffered from mental illness. Law enforcement officials say he suffered from paranoia and auditory hallucinations, according to The Associated Press.

“The Manchin-Toomey amendment said 'keep a gun like an AR-15 or any firearm out of the hands of people who are guilty of felonies or are mentally unstable,'” Durbin said after his floor speech. “This individual appeared to have some background issues — we know so little about him at this moment, but [from] what we’ve read — some background issues that should have raised some questions.”

Durbin cautioned, however, he did not know for sure whether background checks would have prevented Alexis from obtaining several firearms. Media outlets initially reported that Alexis used an AR-15, a version of the assault rifle made famous by the Vietnam War. CNN reported Tuesday that he might have used a shotgun and two handguns and not an AR-15.

Democratic leaders dropped the issue of gun control after the Senate fell six votes short in April on an effort to overcome a filibuster of the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

An amendment sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to restrict the purchase of semiautomatic weapons with military-style features failed by a vote of 40 to 60.

Durbin said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is looking for a handful of senators to change their positions on expanding background checks before he brings gun control legislation back to the floor.

“If there’s any indication of movement or votes toward their position, I think Harry Reid is going to be open to it,” Durbin said.

“We’re around 55. We’re still looking for three or four more,” he added.

Durbin said he hoped several of his colleagues would reconsider their votes after a mass killing only blocks from Capitol Hill, which led security officials to lock down the Senate for a few hours Monday.

“God forbid this becomes so commonplace we don’t stop and reflect and think about how to avoid it in the future,” he said. “I hope some members will reconsider their opposition.”

The Connecticut State Police reported that Adam Lanza, the gunman responsible for the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type weapon.