WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's spokesman on Tuesday criticized lawmakers who have stood in the way of expanded background checks for gun purchases and said the White House will continue to push the cause in the wake of the Washington Navy Yard shooting.
Gun control proponents are citing Monday's death of 13, including a gunman who opened fire at the military installation in the nation's capital, to condemn Congress for failing to strengthen firearms laws. Yet there's no sign that any of the lawmakers who have successfully opposed stronger gun laws have change their position as a result or that momentum could be shifting in the debate.
"We all witnessed the power of a narrow special interest to influence a vote against the will of 80-90 percent of the American people," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "And that's the world that we live in, but we have to keep pressing forward."
Carney said lawmakers who oppose expanded background checks are taking cues from the gun lobby instead of serving their constituents. Although some Democrats voted in April against a measure that would have required background checks for sales online and at gun shows, Carney said the problem lies "overwhelmingly" with the Republican Party.
The National Rifle Association mobilized gun rights supporters to successfully fight Obama's push for stricter firearms laws after the death of 20 first-graders and six staff nine months ago in Newtown, Conn. The Senate in April rejected expanded background checks for sales at gun shows and online, and the politics of gun control have grown even tougher since last week's recall of two Colorado legislators who supported stronger state laws. The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
It remains to be seen whether Monday's 13 additional deaths, including the gunman at the Navy Yard, can reignite the legislation, particularly with so many details uncertain. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a leading advocate for tougher gun control in the Senate, said the shooting "is one more event to add to the litany of massacres" and issued a call to action.
"When will enough be enough?" the California Democrat said in a written statement. "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."
Some congressional Democrats and family members of shooting victims planned to gather at the Capitol Wednesday to call for background check legislation. The trip, organized by the Newtown Action Alliance, was previously planned to mark the nine-month anniversary of the Connecticut school shooting.
Law enforcement officials say the Navy Yard shooter, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, suffered a host of serious mental issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, and had been hearing voices. There were conflicting reports on which guns he used or how he obtained them.
Two law enforcement officials told the AP that an AR-15 assault rifle was found at the scene, but one of them said Tuesday that Alexis did not use that weapon in the shootings. It was not immediately clear whether the rifle belonged to a law enforcement or security officer who may have been responding to the gun battle. The official said Tuesday that guns Alexis used included a shotgun that he had purchased and two handguns that he took away from law enforcement at the scene.
Carney said the president was going to be briefed on the investigation Tuesday afternoon by Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director James Comey and other members of his national security team. Carney declined to say what the president had learned about the shooter and his motivation or whether he had any concerns that Alexis had a security clearance that allowed him access to a military facility despite a history of mental illness and previous gun incidents.
Obama mourned the victims before delivering an economic speech at the White House Monday. "We are confronting yet another mass shooting, and today it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital," Obama said.
Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief operating officer of Washington Hospital Center, which treated several of the Navy Yard victims, said: "We need to do whatever we can — to have people argue, to have people disagree — this is something we've got to work on together. ... We've got to stop it."
Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that after every shooting, "the corporate gun lobby's friends in Congress obstructed the will of the American people and stood in the way of sensible solutions to gun violence."
"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," Gross said in a written statement.