After the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cautioned yesterday against a “rush to judgment” on stricter gun control.
“I think we ought to be thinking about the families and the victims and not speculate about future legislative battles that might lie ahead,” said Mr. Reid, a view expressed by other Democratic leaders the day after the shootings that left 33 dead on the Virginia Tech campus.
Democrats traditionally have been in the forefront of efforts to pass gun-control legislation, but there is a widespread perception among political strategists that the issue has been a loser in recent campaigns. It was notably absent from the agenda of Nevada’s Mr. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, which was revealed earlier this year when the party took control of the House and Senate.
In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, a few Democrats renewed the call for gun-control legislation, and more are expected to join them.
“I believe this will reignite the dormant effort to pass commonsense gun regulations in this nation,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who was a leader in the failed drive to renew a ban on certain types of assault weapons that expired in 2004.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, was one of very few lawmakers to refer to gun control in the early hours after the shootings.
“There will be time to debate the steps needed to avert such tragedies,” he said Monday, “but today, our thoughts and prayers go to their families.”
Less than a month ago, Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders abruptly pulled legislation to give the District voting representation in the House. Republicans were using the issue to try to force a vote on repeal of the capital’s handgun ban, and Democrats feared it would pass.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told reporters he thought and hoped the shootings at Virginia Tech would make it harder for Republicans to prevail when the voting rights bill returns to the House floor later this week.
He refused to be drawn into a discussion of the longer-term political consequences of the shooting, but not all lawmakers were as reticent.
Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and one of Congress’ most persistent advocates of gun rights, noted that the student who police say was the shooter at Virginia Tech had brought a weapon onto campus in violation of restrictions. He said he doubted a law could be passed that would protect “any of us when somebody who is mentally deranged decides to do this.”
One law-enforcement official has said that the gunman’s backpack contained a receipt for a March purchase of a Glock 9 mm pistol.
Democrats have grown less supportive of gun-control legislation as a party in the past decade.
After the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, then-Vice President Al Gore cast a tiebreaking vote in the Senate on legislation to reduce the availability of certain firearms. He and other gun-control advocates claimed victory, but many strategists think the vote hurt him in the 2000 presidential election.