House Democrats reignited an uphill battle for tighter federal gun control laws Wednesday, exactly three weeks after nine black members of a historic Charleston, South Carolina, church were killed in a shooting spree fueled by racial hatred.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said it wasn’t enough to mourn for those who died June 17 at the Mother Emanuel AME Church, or to sympathize with those who have lost loved ones in other shootings across the country.
“Congress has a moral responsibility to act,” she said.
Mrs. Pelosi’s coalition, backed by advocates who rode by bus from Charleston, urged Republican leaders to bring up a bill sponsored by Reps. Peter T. King, New York Republican, and Mike Thompson, California Democrat, that would expand background checks to cover all commercial firearm sales, including at gun shows and sales over the Internet or through classified ads.
“This will save lives — period,” said Andre Duncan, whose aunt, Myra Thompson, died in the Charleston attack.
Dylann Storm Roof, who purportedly penned a lengthy manifesto that included themes of white supremacy, has been charged in the shooting deaths of Thompson, state Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney and seven others. Roof, who confessed to police, was shown in a social media photo holding a gun and carrying the Confederate battle flag.
That flag has become a flashpoint of debate in recent weeks, and the South Carolina Legislature is finishing debate this week that likely will remove it from the grounds of the state Capitol.
Any effort to rein in guns faces much longer odds. The Democrats’ push undoubtedly will run into a wall of opposition from the National Rifle Association and conservatives who say gun control measures violate the Second Amendment and will do little to deter lawbreakers, as some areas with strict gun laws still suffer from high crime rates.
The NRA said the House proposal wouldn’t have prevented the Charleston shooting because Roof passed a background check and purchased the gun from a licensed dealer, continuing a trend in which it says advocates misguidedly try to link gun control legislation to shooting tragedies.
“Once again, gun control advocates are offering a solution that doesn’t solve the problem,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said.
Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, acknowledged that he didn’t know whether the bill would have prevented Roof, in particular, from obtaining a weapon, but he said that doesn’t matter.
“I do know this: We know from our experiences that background checks are effective in preventing a lot of people who should not have guns from getting them,” he said.
Mr. Thompson said there is enough Republican support to pass a background checks bill, even if individual Republicans are reluctant to sign on as co-sponsors.
“This isn’t a question of ‘if’; it’s a question of ‘when,’” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
He said advocates would lobby the South Carolina delegation on Capitol Hill and members of Congress who are running for president.
They won’t find Donald Trump on the Hill. The business mogul and Republican presidential candidate, who has been criticized for his comments on Mexican immigrants, dismissed talk of expanded background checks in an MSNBC interview Wednesday.
“You start getting into a situation, a slippery slope, where all of a sudden you’re going to really violate the Second Amendment,” he said.
President Obama has said Congress can take “common-sense” measures to strengthen background checks and curb the use of high-powered weapons without infringing on the rights of law-abiding gun owners, although he has acknowledged that “the politics of this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”
Last month, he told comedian Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast that he was disgusted with Congress after it failed to address gun violence in the wake of the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults. He specifically blamed the political power of the NRA.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, and Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, led the post-Newtown push to expand background checks and ban certain military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, but their bill failed to overcome a filibuster in the Democrat-controlled Senate in April 2013.