In the wake of the Navy Yard shootings, the White House on Tuesday blamed Republican lawmakers for blocking President Obama’s gun-control efforts and vowed to push again for more gun restrictions.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said it was a “cop-out” for opponents of gun control to point out that Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis passed a background check in Virginia to purchase the shotgun used in the slayings.
“It’s a cop-out to suggest that that is a reason not to do” expanded background checks, Mr. Carney said. “The background check system is an important aspect and an important tool available to law enforcement, and we need to expand it in a way so that there aren’t giant loopholes.”
But when a reporter noted that a background check “wouldn’t have mattered” in Alexis‘ case, the president’s spokesman said that it was “a good point.”
Mr. Carney criticized Republican lawmakers for blocking efforts this spring to expand background checks on gun purchases, although five Democrats also voted against the legislation, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, though he did so to preserve the right to bring up the legislation again.
“The problem here is not Democrats,” Mr. Carney said. “The problem here is senators, overwhelmingly from one party, who refuse to do something very simple, which is expand the background check system that everyone believes functions well but needs to function better.”
Some Democrats, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, began to renew the call Monday for further gun-control efforts even before it was clear what kind of firearms Alexis used or what kind of background checks he underwent. Navy officials have said the former full-time reservist had mental health problems, and friends say he also played violent video games continuously.
Mr. Obama will be “continuing to push the cause of common-sense” gun legislation, Mr. Carney said, in spite of congressional opposition.
“We all witnessed the power of a narrow special interest to influence a vote against the will of 80 to 90 percent of the American people,” he said. “That’s the world that we live in, but we have to keep pressing forward.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the Senate still doesn’t have the votes to approve expanded background checks.
“We’ve got to have the votes first,” Mr. Reid said. “I hope we get them, but we don’t have them now.”
He said he would consider setting aside the issue of background checks to focus on a package that would improve mental-health treatment, including early intervention in schools.
“I would be willing to do that — anything we can do to focus attention on the senseless killings that take place,” Mr. Reid said.
The FBI said Alexis entered Building 197 at the Washington Navy Yard with the shotgun he had legally purchased at a gun shop in Lorton, Va. Authorities believe he picked up at least one handgun during his shooting rampage inside the building.
The National Rifle Association, which typically does not comment on gun control issues in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, did put a short statement on its website expressing sympathy for the victims.