A half an hour after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that it was premature to talk about what steps Congress needed to take in response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, five Senate Democrats gathered in a Capitol sub-level conference room to do just that.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who last year waged a filibuster in an effort to spur action in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Fla., said that he would be issuing a revised version of background check legislation in the coming weeks.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that he would introduce legislation to close a loophole that allows a gun sale to go through if a background check is incomplete after 72 hours.
There was talk of a call from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to ban “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire hundreds of rounds per minute, essentially making them into automatic weapons. Authorities suspect that is what allowed the Las Vegas shooter to greatly increase the capacity of his firearm. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that the “loophole” was so “indefensible,” that Feinstein’s proposal “is going to be very hard to say no to.”
Other Democrats have talked of expanded background check legislation and closing the so-called gun show loophole.
“What is unacceptable in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in the history of this country is for this utter silence, this unintentional complicity from Congress to continue,” Murphy said.
Yet so far, there are few signs that Republicans were moving toward any kind of quick action on gun legislation. McConnell said that it was “premature” to discuss changing gun laws, while insisting that it was “inappropriate to politicize” the situation in Las Vegas, in which 59 people were killed and more than 500 were injured.
Other Republicans pushed back on the notion that they were ignoring what happened.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he was “open minded to anything that would shed light on what happened, and how to fix it without giving people false hope that we are one law away from fixing things like this. How did he get the guns? Was there a loophole he used? Was it an inadequacy in the law? I would be very concerned about that.”
“I don’t think this is a background check problem,” Graham said. “I think the big problem is that people who fail the background check never get prosecuted. There is not a whole lot of deterrence in the system right now.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that he “was all for looking for reasonable, appropriate ways of ending mass killings,” but “we always jump to something that has nothing to do with the event that just occurred.” As for banning bump stocks, he said, “I don’t know….Hopefully Judiciary Committee hearings and Homeland Security hearings will enlighten us.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said that “there are a lot of things that sound really good, but when you think through it would not be effective.”
“Typically when there are heinous acts, the heinous acts would not be prevented by another law,” he said.
“The Democrats, they always refer to Australia, in Australia addressing this issue,” he said. “What Australia did is they took guns away. They actually went in and said if you have a weapon of a certain nature, you have to turn it in. Now that is what worked in Australia.” Such a measure would run afoul of the Constitutional right to bear arms in the United States, he said.
With immediate legislative action in doubt, Democrats hope that the coming weeks and months will see increased public pressure on lawmakers, and perhaps a shift in even the most hardened views about gun rights. At the press conference, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) noted that one of the members of the Josh Abbott Band, which had played at the Las Vegas festival that was targeted, had changed his mind after the massacre.
Earlier on Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that a bill to make it easier for gun owners to buy silencers is not scheduled for a vote this week and he didn’t say when it would come to the floor. Senate Democrats said that the sidelining of that legislation would be an encouraging sign, even if it is merely stopping the momentum of legislation to ease gun restrictions.
“Let’s face it, the reason we don’t have gun safety measures in the United States is because of the NRA, and we will defeat them,” Blumenthal told reporters. “They are already losing their grip and we can break their stranglehold on legislation by continuing this fight.”
After the press conference, Blumenthal was asked if he had any indications that minds were changing among Republican colleagues on what needed to be done.
“If it is any barometer, in my very candid discussions with some of my colleagues, there is a feeling that enough is enough,” he said. “Now, it is not expressed in those terms.”
On Tuesday morning in the Senate gym, Blumenthal said, “a couple of my colleagues said to me, ‘Can’t we do something about this?’ They were watching the images at 6:30 in the morning on the screen of Las Vegas. I think that is the growing sentiment here.”