Just hours after the deadly shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, gun control advocates tried to reignite the national debate over gun laws that had only just subsided.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a longtime gun control advocate, denounced “the litany of massacres” over the past few years and asked rhetorically, “When will enough be enough?”
Mrs. Feinstein, who was first thrust into the national spotlight as president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors announcing the shooting deaths of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, said, “Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.”
President Obama was one of the first to link Monday’s incident to the larger issue of gun violence and the legislative effort to curb it, though he did so without explicitly calling, as he has done repeatedly, for gun control measures.
“So we are confronting yet another mass shooting, and today it happened on a military installation in our nation’s capital,” Mr. Obama said as he opened an economic speech at the White House.
“Obviously, we’re going to be investigating thoroughly what happened, as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened, and do everything that we can to prevent them,” the president said.
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The National Rifle Association had no comment on Monday, and pro-gun groups generally take the stance that days of particularly shocking crimes are not the time to discuss policy. Popular conservative blogger and former CNN commentator Erick Erickson admonished the rush to politicize the shooting, saying “seriously people, grow up.”
“I would not dare step in the way of America’s national pastime of bitching about the politics of everything on Twitter, but there has to be a better time for it than as the temperature of bodies on the ground in the Navy Yard are not even yet cold,” he said. “If you don’t have the judgment and good sense to understand that now is not the time to say it, you have no capacity to understand why.”
But Mr. Obama’s words were echoed by Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief medical officer at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where three of the shooting victims were being treated.
At the end of a televised medical briefing on the survivors’ conditions, Dr. Orlowski contrasted trauma from accidental shootings and what she called “something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate.”
“But there’s something wrong here when we have these multiple shootings. … There is something wrong, and the only thing that I can say is we have to work together to get rid of it. I would like you to put my trauma center out of business,” she said, her voice weakening from emotion. “We just cannot have, you know, one more shooting with, you know, so many people killed. We’ve got to figure this out. We’ve got to be able to help each other.”
At least 12 people were killed in Monday’s attack; an investigation by local, federal and military authorities is ongoing. The FBI on Monday afternoon identified the gunman as Aaron Alexis, who reportedly worked at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas.
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The 34-year-old was killed inside the Navy Yard facility, but not before inflicting the kind of carnage that immediately evoked memories of other recent mass shootings such as those in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.
Mass shootings happen periodically, but the Newtown massacre, which claimed the lives of 20 elementary school children, seemed to be a last straw for Mr. Obama, some lawmakers and other high-profile gun control proponents such as New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
In the aftermath of the December tragedy, the president immediately called on lawmakers to take action to reduce gun violence. The effort met stiff resistance from the National Rifle Association and other groups. Many congressional Republicans and red-state Democrats also opposed tight gun restrictions.
In the end, Sens. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, and Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, emerged with a bill that would have greatly expanded background checks for all firearms purchases. In April, the bill was killed in the Senate by a 54-46 vote, six short of the 60 needed to proceed and stopping, for all practical purposes, any movement toward federal gun control legislation.
Making efforts even more daunting, two Democratic state senators were ousted from office in a recall election that centered on support for gun crackdowns in Colorado, including a ban on high-capacity magazines.
Still, the White House continues to prod Congress to tackle the issue.
When asked about the rash of mass shootings, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that “this is why we should take action to reduce gun violence.”
“The president supports, as do an overwhelming majority of Americans, common-sense measures to reduce gun violence,” he said.
With the body count rising, most lawmakers and other public officials on Monday avoided directly linking the Navy Yard shootings and the need for more gun control. Indeed, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, canceled a hearing on gun laws and the Trayvon Martin shooting that had been scheduled for Tuesday. The witness list featured Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon.
A spokesman for Mr. Durbin, who also is chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and human rights, announced Monday afternoon that the planned 10 a.m. hearing on “stand your ground” laws had been delayed and not rescheduled.
Across Twitter, however, the debate gained new life.
A member of the Russian parliament tweeted that “nobody’s even surprised anymore,” a reference to America’s recent history of gun massacres.
Actor Henry Winkler tweeted, “Another shooting in Wash DC. Please. America do nothing to promote gun control because that’s how we roll until we have all shot each other.”
David Frum, a journalist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, tweeted a sarcastic series of “rules” for how gun control advocates should discuss the Navy Yard shootings.
“Rule 1: It is ‘ghoulish’ to suggest in any way that the easy availability of guns might in any way enable gun slaughter,” he said. “Rule 4: Any attempt to stop mass casualty shootings is ‘political.’ Allowing them to continue is ‘non-political.’”
Mr. Erickson’s post denouncing a gun control push ended “Grow the hell up, people. You too David Frum.”