Will Congress Revisit Gun Control After California Shooting?

Gun laws

CBS News – Friday’s shooting rampage in California that left three people dead from gunfireand another three stabbed to death is again raising calls for Congress to revisit various shades of gun control legislation. But if other, more deadly recent high-profile shootings weren’t enough of a catalyst to spur change, election-year politics is sure to stop short any serious renewed efforts in the near-term.

The Republican-led House has let the Democratic-led Senate wrestle over dealing with gun control since the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The Senate did manage to bring up a bipartisan bill to expand background checks last year but it died in the Senate, unable to overcome a filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could bring up the bill again – and some lawmakers have already called for expanded background checks in the wake of Friday’s shooting – but Reid said last month he still doesn’t have the votes to get the measure passed.

With midterm elections looming in less than six months, Reid, who’s fighting to hang on to a Democratic majority in the Senate, likely has little interest in putting some of his most vulnerable members in a tricky spot.

Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas; Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana; and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., are all facing tough re-election battles this fall and all represent states that voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. All would have to answer to their states’ voters and to their Republican challengers if they went on the record voting for any pro-gun bill.

Begich and Pryor have been steadfast in their opposition to gun control and both voted against allowing debate on the background check bill last year, while Landrieu and Hagan both voted for it, immediately drawing criticism from Republicans. Putting them in that politically volatile situation again so close to a pivotal election is not part of the Democrats’ strategy for keeping majority control of the Senate.

Meanwhile, public opinion has not moved in such a way to make passage of a gun control measure any easier. A CBS News poll taken a year after the Newtown shooting found that support for stricter gun laws, which had peaked at 57 percent right after the shootings, was back down to 49 percent. The percentage of people who thought gun laws should stay as they are ticked up from 30 percent after the shooting to 36 percent a year later.

An area that seems to have drawn bipartisan interest and could possibly result in some congressional movement is dealing with mental health, one seemingly common thread in all of the recent mass shootings.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was actively involved in efforts to pass more gun control legislation in the wake of the Newtown massacre and Sunday, he said he’s hoping Congress can focus on improving resources for mental health care.

“I really, sincerely hope that this tragedy, this unimaginable, unspeakable tragedy will provide an impetus to bring back measures that will keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people who are severely troubled or deranged like this young man was, and provide resources,” Blumenthal said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.

“We need mental health resources and that initiative, I hope, will provide a common ground, a point of consensus that will bring us together in the Congress and enable the majority.”

Congress, he warned, “will be complicit if we fail to act.”

Blumenthal said he might “reconfigure” a bill he failed to get through the Senate last year to make mental health the focus, an idea which Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said on “Face the Nation” he could be on board with.

Congress should “ensure that we have policies in place that allow people with mental health issues like these to be diagnosed and to be treated,” Thune said. “I think that’s something on which there is agreement and that’s where we ought to be focusing our efforts.”

There is still the question of whether any legislation can prevent a similar incident from occurring.

In a separate interview with “Face the Nation,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown that 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, the suspected gunman in the Santa Barbara shootings, had been able to “fly under the radar” and conceal a history of mental instability for a long time.

Asked about whether more legislation would have made a difference, Blumenthal noted that the bill that failed in Congress last year would have given more resources for police departments to diagnose and detect mental illness and intervene.

“Obviously, not every kind of gun violence is going to be prevented by law, it’s out of Washington, but at least we can make a start,” he said.