Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was grievously wounded by a gunman in a 2011 attack, returned to Capitol Hill Wednesday to help relaunch legislation aimed at closing loopholes in background checks for gun buyers.
The bill would expand the current federal law mandating background checks to include weapons sold at gun shows and sold over the Internet, leaving exceptions for transfers between family members. The language in the new bill is similar to language that failed in an April 2013 Senate vote, effectively killing the proposal for the 113th Congress.
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, joined her husband, Mark Kelly, and several members of Congress to mark the introduction of a House bill for the 114th Congress.
"Stopping violence takes courage," she told a packed room. "The courage to do what's right, the courage of new ideas. ... Now is the time to come together and be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting. Fight, fight, fight. Be bold, be courageous, the nation's counting on you."
It may take a whole lot more than courage to get even this relatively modest proposal through the Congress in the next 22 months. In the current political landscape, it's tough to see a path for the measure to proceed through either chamber.
The new House bill, the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2015, has bipartisan support. Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) appeared Wednesday with the Democratic authors of the bill, and three other Republicans -- Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Peter T. King (N.Y.) and Pat Meehan (Pa.) -- are also authors.
But Dold and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), the bill's lead author and chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, offered little besides blind hope that the bill would make it through committee and through House leadership to the floor.
The National Rifle Association, whose influence on lawmakers can hardly be overstated, opposes the expansion of background checks, saying in a 2013 statement that they "will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools."
Neither Thompson nor Dold could offer any concrete reason to think that House Speaker John A. Boehner would let the bill onto the House floor if somehow it did emerge from the House Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, the outlook in the Senate appears grave.
With 60 votes necessary for passage, only 54 members supported the measure in April 2013 -- four months after the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy put gun control back on the national agenda. Of those 54 votes, several of the Democrats voting in favor have since been replaced by NRA-endorsed Republicans.
Gone is Kay Hagan (N.C.); in is Thom Tillis. Gone is Tom Harkin (Iowa); in is Joni Ernst. Out is Tim Johnson (S.D.); in is Mike Rounds. Out is Jay Rockefeller; in in Shelly Moore Capito (W.V.). Gone is Mark Udall (Colo.); in is Cory Gardner.
Asked about the political realities, Thompson made an observation, that while undoubtedly correct, only highlighted the long odds any gun control measure faces the House: "If this thing passes out of the House, it will fly out of the Senate."
Dold, a moderate Republican who represents a swing district in the north suburbs of Chicago, acknowledged the cynicism that might greet the bill's introduction but said "we have to continually push; we have to continually try."
"I'm not saying I'm going to the speaker, and it's going to be on the floor next week -- it's not," Dold said. "But my hope is this continues to build momentum and ultimately will be passed. ... It is something that the American public wants us to do."