Skip to main content

Will Navy Yard rampage move the dial on gun control?

By Ashley Killough, CNN
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The immediate reaction to the Navy Yard shooting seems more restrained than after Newtown
  • While some lawmakers are still calling on Congress to do something, other say action is doubtful
  • Some argue mental health may be the next legislative path
  • Others say Navy Yard adds to growing sense mass shootings are growing worse and more frequent

Washington (CNN) -- The national trauma inflicted by the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School prompted an emotional and fierce debate on gun control, but the drive this spring for stricter limits led by President Barack Obama fell short in Washington.

By summer, the issue had mostly faded on the political stage. It was replaced by troubling disclosures around national security leaks and U.S. surveillance, violent political turmoil in Egypt, alleged chemical weapons use in Syria, and another looming federal budget showdown.

Then, an armed, 34-year-old former veteran shattered the late summer calm on Monday when he shot up the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 people before, he, too, died.

Headlines blared, first responders acted heroically, accounts of harrowing escape and sudden death filled the airwaves yet again in the United States. Another mass shooting, said the president, another test of the national psyche.

And, yes, a new call for tougher gun control.

Conversation with the Navy Yard shooter
Remembering the Navy Yard victims
Victim's friend: He was a great man
Man was at Navy Yard during shootings

"When will enough be enough?" Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, said Americas are "becoming far too familiar with senseless, tragic violence" and "these repeated incidents demand our attention."

"Congress needs to act," Rep. Mike Thompson said.

But if the jolt delivered by the Newtown massacre last December in a first grade classroom couldn't serve as a catalyst in Congress for more extensive background checks than why would this latest incident move the debate beyond rhetoric?

Initial indications are it won't even though a dozen people were slaughtered in the shadow of the Capitol.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, is still seeking the five votes needed to pass the expanded background check measure that failed last spring. But he told CNN's Dana Bash he didn't believe the shooting will impact legislation.

But the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence argued the Navy Yard shooting was one more example of the failure of Washington to address the issue.

"While it is too early to know what policies might have prevented this latest tragedy, we do know that policies that present a real opportunity to save lives sit stalled in Congress, policies that could prevent many of the dozens of deaths that result every day from gun violence," Dan Gross, the group's president, said in a statement Monday.

Did Obama strike the wrong tone on Monday?

A more restrained response

Obama, who wiped away tears on the day of Newtown, briefly nodded Monday to the seemingly growing trend of such tragedies.

"So we are confronting yet another mass shooting," he said. "And today, it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital."

Asked about the difference in his public reaction, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday the president was "horrified" by the Navy Yard killings.

"While it is a sad truth we in America seem to experience these mass shootings with all too much frequency, they are always horrifying," Carney said, adding that Newtown presented its own particular horror because most of the victims were so young.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, pointed to the Senate background check proposal, but stopped short of re-introducing the legislation.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, believes the Navy Yard shooting will revive the debate, but argued outside groups opposed to any new restrictions make it unlikely that Congress will enact any new laws.

"If the past is prologue that prologue is not very helpful," Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday.

Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, released a statement offering support to the victims' families, but did not make any calls for legislative action. However, he made sure to mention the context of the latest killings, saying they workers at the Navy Yard were not killed overseas but in "a mass shooting here at home."

Giffords was severely wounded in a 2011 mass shooting that left six dead and 12 others injured

Dave Kopel, an adjunct professor at the University of Denver's law school, said he doubts the latest shooting will fire up Washington the same way Newtown did.

Until December, Obama had largely stayed away from gun control, so his decision to lay out a series of proposals for the first time certainly fueled the post-Newtown debate, Kopel noted.

"But you can only do that once," he said.

Opinion: Gun control is not the answer

A potential opening

Sen. Richard Blumenthal--D, Connecticut--said he believes the Navy Yard shooting makes a case for a stronger push on mental health.

The shooter, Aaron Alexis, had recently made contact with two Veterans Administration hospitals for apparent psychological issues and had exhibited signs of mental problems, CNN has learned. His father said he suffered from post traumatic stress after working in 9/11 rescue efforts.

"Let us make mental health initiative a centerpiece of this renewal and reinvigoration of our effort to stop gun violence. Let us combine it with background checks and other commonsense measures," Blumenthal said on the Senate floor.

Manchin agreed a mental health component could help nudge gun violence legislation forward.

"I'll support anything I can to rehabilitate people but also making sure people who are not rehabilitated should not be able to--because of their past and their record--not be able to purchase a gun," he told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Rev. Kenneth Blanchard, a Christian pastor and gun rights activist, encouraged a societal change on mental health issues rather than a "microwave change" through gun control.

"We failed him somewhere. Everybody around him failed. Nobody wants to put the finger on ourselves, but it's us. We're our own worst enemies," he said.

Audit: Big problems with Navy program that screens contractors

Other factors at play

The powerful National Rifle Association has not weighed in on the latest shooting, but the organization tends to wait a short period of time after an incident before commenting.

It's entirely plausible that the tone of the debate remains less-than-fiery as the country still processes the events that took place Monday.

But there may also be an elephant in the room.

Last week, two state senators in Colorado were booted out of office after voting in favor of the state's new gun control laws.

The Navy Yard shooting represents the first national test of whether the recalls might have an impact on how Washington lawmakers react to the gun control, especially with the entire House and a third of the Senate facing reelection next year.

"(The recalls) suggest to a lot of swing elected officials, who maybe don't have deep convictions one way or the other on the gun issue, that banning arms as some sort of symbolic reaction to a crime by a mentally ill evildoer is not as politically popular," said Kopel, who also works as a research director of the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank in Colorado.

The most recent polling, however, indicates just over half of Americans nationwide think gun control laws should be stricter. According to a CBS/New York Times Poll from early June, 51% of Americans favor stricter regulations, while 47% prefer laws are kept as they are or become less strict.

Numbers in favor of tighter gun laws have dropped since the days following the Sandy Hook shooting.

Mark Glaze, director of the Michael Bloomberg-backed group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, thinks the Navy Yard shooting will have an impact on the larger debate, even if the effects aren't immediate.

"It is the Chinese water torture of a series of mass shootings that are happening more rapidly and are growing more deadly," he said.

His group will hold a previously scheduled rally Thursday on Capitol Hill, with protests specifically aimed at senators who voted against the background check proposal.

CNN's Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
D.C. Navy Yard shooting
September 25, 2013 -- Updated 1806 GMT (0206 HKT)
Surveillance video shows the Navy Yard shooter arrive and begin his deadly rampage.
September 26, 2013 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
According to the FBI, Aaron Alexis was under "the delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves."
Get to know the victims of the Navy Yard shooting through our interactive.
September 19, 2013 -- Updated 1037 GMT (1837 HKT)
Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis left a trail of so-called red flags that, in hindsight, seem quite glaring, even if the impetus for this week's deadly rampage remains murky.
September 22, 2013 -- Updated 2042 GMT (0442 HKT)
They were civilians and contractors, just starting their day at a massive military compound that's normally a bastion of safety.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
The picture emerging of the dead gunman is a study in contrasts, one of a man who practiced languages and meditated, and another of a cold-blooded killer.
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 1410 GMT (2210 HKT)
President Barack Obama said Sunday that the United States "can't accept" last week's killing of 12 people at Washington's Navy Yard as "inevitable."
September 19, 2013 -- Updated 1038 GMT (1838 HKT)
For scientist Benita Bell, memories of an encounter with a stranger last week took on a different light after the shooting.
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
The shooter had a "pattern of misconduct" as a Navy reservist, had sporadic run-ins with the law, and had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals for apparent psychological issues.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
The Washington Navy Yard is the home to high-level naval personnel and is the workplace for many junior service members and civilian employees.
September 20, 2013 -- Updated 1647 GMT (0047 HKT)
When Washington's police chief visited wounded officer Scott Williams after the Navy Yard shooting it wasn't a chief visiting a subordinate. It was one cop visiting another cop.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Months after apologizing for overeager users fingering innocent people as potential suspects in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Reddit shut down a section devoted to chasing down the Washington Navy Yard shooter.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
About 3,000 people work at the Navy Yard, including junior service members and civilian employees. It's supposed to be a secure facility. So what went wrong?
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
Aurora. Sandy Hook. Boston. And now the nation's capital. Another mass tragedy filled with incomprehensible loss, nonstop news coverage and a major question for parents: What do we tell our kids?
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
The White House defended President Barack Obama from criticism he was tone deaf in his reaction to the shootings at Washington Navy Yard.
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
The national trauma inflicted by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School prompted an emotional and fierce debate on gun control, but the drive for stricter limits fell short in Washington.
September 16, 2013 -- Updated 1923 GMT (0323 HKT)
A Navy commander describes witnessing a man get shot during the Navy Yard shooting. CNN's Rene Marsh has more.
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 0003 GMT (0803 HKT)
A chronicle of the events in the D.C. Navy Yard shooting.
September 16, 2013 -- Updated 2232 GMT (0632 HKT)
A fire alarm went off, as has happened before at the Washington Navy Yard. Terrie Durham wasn't sure if it was anything serious, or a drill.
September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1936 GMT (0336 HKT)
Go inside the story with photos from the scene.
ADVERTISEMENT