National Security

Even after Charleston, hopes are dim for new gun laws

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A sense of resignation has settled over gun control advocates.

While some proponents of new limits insist they could yet be revived, few people beyond the most optimistic activists are suggesting that a brutal mass murder at a historic African-American church on Wednesday will do anything to spark new legislation to rein in guns.

{mosads}The consensus is that if Congress couldn’t act in the wake of the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed, it’s clear that the deaths of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., will do little to motivate lawmakers.

“We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because somebody who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun,” President Obama said in emotional remarks in the White House briefing room on Thursday, shortly after a suspect in the Charleston case was arrested.

“Let’s be clear: At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” he added. “I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now, but it’d be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.”

Wednesday evening’s shooting, which officials are labeling a hate crime, left nine people dead at the church. The suspect taken into custody on Thursday, 21-year old Dylann Storm Roof, appeared to have white supremacist sympathies.

Gun control groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and former Rep. Gabby Giffords’s (D-Ariz.) Americans for Responsible Solutions were quick to decry the tragedy as yet another incident in which guns facilitated deadly violence.

“Once again, a senseless act of gun violence has brought terror, tragedy and pain to one of our communities,” Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, said in a statement.

But the chances of action on Capitol Hill remain effectively nill.

“There’s always hope,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “The odds are against us, but I am unwilling to walk away from this fight.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has fought to change the nation’s gun laws, said that she keeps at her home an image of the front page of the New York Daily News from the day after the Senate dropped an effort to ban assault weapons in 2013. The front page includes pictures of the 20 children murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, with the caption “Shame on U.S.”

“I look at it all the time, and I wonder how we don’t respond,” she said on Thursday.

“First it was high schools, then middle schools, then grammar schools, now churches,” she added. “How much is this nation going to take?”

The failure of the 2013 Senate effort to expand background checks for guns, which came on the heels of the shooting at the Connecticut school, was seen as a death knell for the chances of gun reform in Congress in the foreseeable future.

“Congress is becoming complicit,” Blumenthal told The Hill on Thursday.

Gun critics blame the massive clout of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has repeatedly shown an ability to bring down both national and statewide officials who seek to limit access to guns.

“I am absolutely frustrated with these lawmakers who have decided that it’s easier to ask Americans to stand up to a gunman than to stand up to the gun lobby themselves,” said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action. “Too much of their focus has been on doing the bidding of the gun lobby instead of doing what’s right for their constituents.”

Yet Watts said she remains “full of hope” that Congress will one day reform the nation’s gun laws. 

“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” Watts explained. “This is a marathon. It is not a sprint.”

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But other opponents of new gun rules deny that firearms are to blame.

“I do not relate it to guns being a problem,” said Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who seemed visibly shaken over the shooting in his home state. “It’s the criminal, the murderer, who’s the problem.”

“The president wants to blame an inanimate object — the gun,” Erich Pratt, spokesman for the Gun Owners of America, said in a statement. “But that just deflects blame away from the real culprit: Gun control policies that leave people defenseless in the face of evil perpetrators who are never effectively prevented from acquiring weapons.”

The group suggested that the massacre could have been avoided had church members been armed themselves. 

Congress has failed to substantively act on every front in the wake of mass shootings, including efforts to increase treatment for mental health. That, too, seems unlikely to change.

“What’s offensive to me is that it’s not that we’ve only given up on changing the gun laws; we’ve also given up on trying to address the needs of law enforcement or our broken mental health system,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), another gun control advocate. 

“There’s a bigger conversation beyond changing guns laws that we’re not having either.” 

This story was updated at 2:12 p.m.

Tags Charleston Charleston shooting Chris Murphy Connecticut Dianne Feinstein gun laws Joe Wilson Newtown shooting Richard Blumenthal South Carolina

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