In the aftermath of the Monday shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C., U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) says it is time to restart the gun debate in Congress, arguing that the tragedy may have been averted had the Manchin-Toomey amendment been passed earlier this year.
In the aftermath of the Monday shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C., U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) says it is time to restart the gun debate in Congress, arguing that the tragedy may have possibly been averted had the Manchin-Toomey amendment been passed earlier this year.
"We need to return to issues that are of importance,” the Senate Democratic Whip said on the Senate floor. “There was an issue before the Senate several months ago, a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Manchin and Toomey, that would have taken an extra step to keep guns out of the hands of those who have a history of felonies and who are mentally ill.”
Thirteen people died, including 34 year-old shooter Aaron Alexis, as a result of the Monday morning shooting attack at the Navy Yard. Alexis, who was honorably discharged from the Navy for disorderly conduct and insubordination, reportedly suffered from paranoia and hallucinations and had very recently been treated for mental health issues by the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs.
Durbin argued that if the Manchin-Toomey amendment was in effect, Alexis' history of mental illness may have been flagged had he tried to acquire the firearms used in the shooting.
“The Manchin-Toomey amendment said 'keep a gun like an AR-15 or any firearm out of the hands of people who are guilty of felonies or are mentally unstable,'” said Durbin to reporters following his speech. “This individual appeared to have some background issues — we know so little about him at this moment, but [from] what we’ve read — some background issues that should have raised some questions.”
Here's more from Durbin on the illustrated need for federal gun control legislation in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting:
Durbin was careful not to say straight out that the Navy Yard shooting would have been surely prevented by the passage of the Manchin-Toomey amendment. Instead, the congressman said the tragedy "brings into question some important values in America."
After pointing out that the Manchin-Toomey bill would have put extra provisions in place to decrease the chances of felons and the mentally ill gaining access to guns, Durbin argued that most Americans see nothing wrong with such "common sense" regulations.
"The vast majority of Americans think that this is just common sense," he said. "We can protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to use guns in a responsible, legal way for sporting and hunting and self-defense. But we've got to do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of those who would misuse them — felons who have a history of misusing firearms, the mentally unstable who can't be trusted to have a firearm."
In April, the Manchin-Toomey amendment was just six votes shy of beating a filibuster. According to The Hill, U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is looking to get a few more senators behind the idea of expanding background checks before reintroducing the issue of gun control to the chamber floor.
“If there’s any indication of movement or votes toward their position, I think Harry Reid is going to be open to it,” Durbin told The Hill. “We’re around 55. We’re still looking for three or four more.”
With Monday's shooting being arguably seen as the sixth U.S. mass shooting since the Newtown elementary school tragedy in December, Durbin says he hopes such violence does not become so ingrained in the nation's fabric that lawmakers begin to gloss over similar massacres.
“God forbid this becomes so commonplace we don’t stop and reflect and think about how to avoid it in the future,” said Durbin. “I hope some members will reconsider their opposition.”
But in the international community, mass shootings in America are beginning to be less surprising and increasingly expected, according to a report in the Washington Post in which one Londoner said of the U.S., "Buying guns is like buying sweets from a sweet shop — it’s no problem.” Media outlets in some international communities failed to even give the Navy Yard shooting much attention due to the increasing regularity of such acts of violence in the U.S. Mass shootings could also be having an adverse effect on the nation's credibility.
“America’s gun disease diminishes its soft power,” wrote Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland. “It makes the country seem less like a model and more like a basket case, afflicted by a pathology other nations strive to avoid. When similar gun massacres have struck elsewhere — including in Britain — lawmakers have acted swiftly to tighten controls, watching as the gun crime statistics then fell.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of Chicagoans who have been affected by gun violence are hoping to make their trip to D.C. with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL,2) count. The Chicagoans are teaming up with Newtown Action Alliance, a grassroots group that was born out of the elementary school tragedy, to press Congress to pass "common sense" gun control legislation.
“This is the first time that urban families have been included in the broader conversation about gun violence in America,” Kelly said in a release promoting this week's two-day trip to advocate for gun control legislation. “Rather than treating our concerns as separate, we are joining with the Newtown families to show that our stories and struggles are alike. Two hundred and seventy children have been killed by guns in Chicago since 2007. The voices of Chicago parents need to be heard. Every child deserves to grow up free of the fear of gun violence. And we won’t rest until this is reality – for every child.”
On Wednesday, the Chicago activists, members of the Newtown Action Alliance and congressmen including Kelly, will make their case at the Capitol building, with Windy City resident Shundra Robinson speaking on behalf of the Illinois parents taking part in the advocacy efforts. Robinson lost her 18 year-old son, Deno Wooldridge in October 2010 when he was shot while standing on his grandmother's porch on Chicago's South Side.
Image: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta