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Washington’s shame: how previous bids to tighten gun laws have failed


Sandy Hook, 26 dead

What was proposed: Four months after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, legislation was proposed by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to expand background checks for commercial gun sales, including at gun shows and on the internet.

What happened: The proposal fell five votes short in the Senate and went no further. The Senate, then led by Democrats, also defeated measures to ban assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. President Barack Obama called it a “shameful day for Washington”.

Charleston: Nine dead

What was proposed: After the 2015 shooting of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white supremacist with a previous arrest record, Democrats suggested closing the loophole that allowed a gun sale to go through if background checks took longer than three days.

What happened: The proposal never made it to a vote.

San Bernardino, 14 dead

What was proposed: The day after the December 2015 shooting at a social services centre in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 people were killed and more than 20 wounded, two proposals were put forward to make it harder for people the government suspected of being terrorists to buy firearms.

What happened: Both were rejected by the Republican-led Senate. A week later, the Republican-led House blocked a Democratic effort to vote on legislation to curb gun purchases by suspected terrorists.

Pulse nightclub, Orlando: 49 dead

What was proposed: After a shooting in which 49 people were killed at a Florida nightclub in June 2016, four measures were put forward – two by Democrats, two by Republicans – to expand background checks in a similar manner to the failed 2013 Manchin-Toomey proposal, making it harder for suspected terrorists to purchase guns.

What happened: All four were defeated in a series of Senate votes.

Parkland, Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas: 103 dead

What was proposed: In the wake of the 2017 murders of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; the 2018 mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that killed 26; and the shooting dead of 60 people from a hotel room overlooking the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip that same year, modest measures came before Congress to help states comply with the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check system in reporting legal and mental health records. A ban on “bump stocks”, used by the Las Vegas and Parkland gunmen and allowing a semiautomatic rifle to fire hundreds of rounds per minute, was also put forward.

What happened: The measures on background check reporting passed. The “bump stock” ban did not make it to a vote but was later enacted by the Trump administration through regulations.

El Paso and Dayton: 31 dead

What was proposed: Following the 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where a far-right gunman killed 23 people, and in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were shot near the entrance of Ned Peppars bar, President Donald Trump helped restart negotiations over the 2013 proposals to expand background checks and US attorney general Bill Barr floated a proposal for legislation on Capitol Hill.

What happened: Democrats held rare talks with the White House to try to broker a compromise, but the Trump administration proposal never reached the House or Senate floor after Congress, and Trump, became consumed with impeachment proceedings against the president.

March 2021

What was proposed: Two bills came before Congress in the first months of the Biden administration, the first to extend the review period for background checks from three to 10 days (first proposed after the 2015 Charleston shooting), the second to extend background checks in a similar manner to the failed 2013 Manchin-Toomey proposal, but now including private as well as commercial sales.

What happened: The Democrat-led House of Representatives passed the two bills and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer vowed a vote as Biden said, “We have to act.” But Senate action stalled and a vote was not held, as Democrats in charge of the 50-50 Senate were unable to broker a bipartisan compromise. Republicans said they did not support the effort to extend background checks to private sales.



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