Advocates for tighter gun-purchase background checks are hopeful the Senate will take another shot at a measure before year’s end, but seven months after the Connecticut school shootings, it’s unclear whether Democratic leaders will make their members take another politically difficult vote ahead of the 2014 midterms.
The Senate failed to pass a measure in April, but advocates — most recently former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly — have been pressuring potential swing voters on both sides.
Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly wrapped up a seven-day, seven-state tour Sunday that featured stops in Nevada, Alaska, North Dakota, Ohio, New Hampshire, Maine and North Carolina to advocate for gun safety and increased background checks.
“It’s really unacceptable that after six months, that after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 first graders died, that we have done absolutely nothing,” Mr. Kelly said.
The stop in Nevada — home to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Sen. Dean Heller — also included a visit to a firing range where Ms. Giffords shot a gun for the first time since she was gravely wounded in a shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage,” Ms. Giffords told a group in Nevada. “The courage to do what’s right. The courage of new ideas. I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line.”
The emergence of Ms. Giffords as a prominent advocate for enhanced checks presents opponents of such measures with a challenge.
She is not as easily demonized as New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose deep pockets and other ventures as mayor, such as limiting the maximum size of large sugary drinks, have invited a torrent of criticism from gun rights advocates. For example, Sen. Mark L. Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, devoted his first campaign ad for re-election in 2014 to rebutting criticism from Mr. Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, for his vote against the background check measure.
Ms. Giffords, though, is a popular former Democratic congresswoman from a red state who was a Second Amendment advocate even before her harrowing experience. She has won widespread admiration for her recovery, if not support for the policies she’s advocating.
Late last week, Ms. Giffords and Mr. Kelly stopped in New Hampshire, the home state of Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Ms. Ayotte ultimately voted against the measure from Sens. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, and Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, that would expand gun-purchase background checks to sales online and at gun shows. Ms. Ayotte has arguably received the most attention of any senator — positive or negative — who voted against the measure. But her office wasn’t about to criticize Ms. Giffords‘ efforts.
“Sen. Ayotte respects Congresswoman Giffords and her brave recovery,” Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone told The Associated Press, adding that Ms. Ayotte favors a Republican-backed bill that emphasizes improvements to the mental health system.
Despite such continued pressure — and promises from politicians at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that the issue is not dead — there have been mixed signals on the prospects for a revival.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden said he has spoken to a handful of senators looking for a way to switch their votes from “no” to “yes.” At an event at the U.S. Capitol to mark the six-month anniversary of the Connecticut school shootings, Mr. Reid said it’s not a question of “if” background check legislation will pass, but when.
Mr. Reid, however, also added at the event that recent talks on the issue had not borne much fruit.
Still, Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the political calculus for people like Mr. Reid — whose pro-gun bona fides nearly won him an endorsement from the National Rifle Association in 2010 — has changed.