Durbin raises gun debate in response to Navy Yard shooting

September 17, 2013

Less than an hour after the U.S. Senate convened Tuesday morning, a senior Senate Democrat raised the possibility of a renewed debate over federal gun laws in light of the deadly shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

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Sen,. Richard Durbin (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

During a Senate floor speech, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said that Americans agree that some "common sense" changes are needed to prevent mentally ill people from obtaining firearms.

Durbin recounted news reports about the arrest records of Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis and how he sought mental health treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Those sorts of things might have been warning signals," Durbin said. "Questions are raised: How can a man with that kind of a background end up getting the necessary security clearance for a military contractor to go into this Navy Yard, to be permitted to go into this Navy Yard? How did he get these weapons into the Navy Yard?"

"If we value our right for ourselves and our families and our children to be safe, if we value this Constitution, if we value the right of American to enjoy their liberties with reasonable limitations, then we need to return to issues that are of importance," Durbin added later.

He noted that the Senate considered a bipartisan proposal to expand the national gun background check program in April "that would have taken an extra step to keep guns out of the hands of those who have a history of felonies or people who are mentally unstable."

That proposal failed in the face of Republican opposition.

"The vast majority of Americans just think this is common sense. We can protect the right of law-abiding citizens to use guns in a responsible, legal way for sporting and hunting, self-defense, but we’ve got to do everything we 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," he said.

Whether or not Congress will commit to a new gun debate remains unclear, especially as lawmakers remain consumed by debates over the federal budget and a need to raise the federal debt limit.

The national appetite for new gun laws spiked late last year after the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, but was at a record-low just before the incident. Just six months after the shooting, support for new gun control measures leveled off again.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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