As Mass Shootings Continue, Gridlock on Guns Returns to Washington

After enactment of a compromise bill last year, Congress is once again stalemated on gun control, with Republicans seeking to protect the free flow of guns and Democrats calling for more limits.

The U.S. Capitol Rotunda illuminated from the inside at night.
Congressional Democrats have joined President Biden’s call for new limits on access to firearms this week, while Republicans have remained virtually silent.Credit...Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The back-to-back mass shootings in California have once again underscored a political reality on Capitol Hill: Even after a pair of massacres that have shaken the country, Congress is unlikely to muster a bipartisan consensus to enact any additional gun control measures in response.

At the Capitol this week, as leading Democrats have joined President Biden’s call to impose new limits on access to firearms, Republicans virtually silent. The divergent reactions reflect the gulf between the two parties on the issue, even after they came together last year to push through the first major gun control legislation in decades.

Negotiators regarded that modest measure, which was aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, as the furthest they could go in forging a bipartisan compromise on guns. The chances of enacting more aggressive steps, like reinstating a ban on assault weapons, now appear all but nonexistent, with Republicans not only opposed to new limits but also putting forth new proposals to protect the free flow of guns.

“It’s clear that the prevalence of guns in our country has made tragedies like this one too frequent,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Monday, reacting to the shooting over the weekend in Monterey Park, Calif., where 11 people were killed in what police called the deadliest mass shooting in Los Angeles County’s history. “While the Senate passed bipartisan gun safety legislation last year, and that was a very welcome move, more should be done.”

Just hours after Mr. Schumer spoke on the Senate floor, a gunman killed seven people in two locations in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

Mr. Biden told reporters on Tuesday that he was talking to Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, as well as Democratic lawmakers from the state, about a federal response. “We’re working out a number of things that we can and are going to be doing,” he said.

Mr. Biden cited legislation introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, to reimpose the ban on assault weapons that expired nearly two decades ago. “I am asking you all to send that to my desk as quickly as you can,” Mr. Biden said.

“No other nation fetishizes violence and guns like we do,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said on Twitter. “No other nation cares so little about who owns the machinery of mass slaughter.”

Republicans, in contrast, said almost nothing in response to the most recent mass shootings. Even the rote messages delivering “thoughts and prayers” for those affected by the shootings, often mocked by Democrats as an inadequate response to gun violence, were not on display.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader and one of the 15 Senate Republicans who voted in favor of the gun safety legislation last year, made no public statement about the mass shootings. And in a sign of how low the expectations are that Congress would act to address the most recent violence, he was not even asked about them at his weekly news conference.

Democrats have conceded that they do not have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster and pass a new assault-style weapons ban. Even if they did, there is little chance that Speaker Kevin McCarthy would bring up such a measure for a vote in the House, where Republicans adamantly oppose an assault weapons ban or any measure seen as infringing on gun rights.

On Tuesday night, Mr. McCarthy told reporters that California, his home state, already had some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. And he said he would not commit to taking up any new gun laws until he had more information about both shootings, which he described as atypical because of the older age of the gunmen.

Last year, when Democrats still controlled both chambers in Congress, Mr. McCarthy, who was then the minority leader, whipped his members to vote against the bipartisan legislation that went on to become law in June, which enhanced background checks for prospective gun buyers ages 18 to 21. It also provided incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws that allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people whom a judge deems too dangerous to possess them. The measure also ensured for the first time that serious dating partners would be included in a federal law that bars domestic abusers from purchasing firearms, a longtime priority that has eluded gun safety advocates for years.

In the new Congress, Republicans are not simply pushing back on additional Democratic gun safety efforts; they are proposing legislation that seeks to protect those who sell, own and make firearms.

Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, in the opening days of the new Congress, introduced the “No SmartPay for Anti-2A Companies Act,” legislation that seeks to punish payment processors that list gun retailers in a separate payment category, which the bill’s proponents say could lead to the creation of a national registry of gun owners.

Representative Claudia Tenney, Republican of New York, introduced a resolution that would declare New York State’s new law placing strict limits on guns outside the home, signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul last year, to be unconstitutional.

And Representative Jack Bergman, Republican of Michigan, introduced legislation that would prohibit the federal government from entering into contracts with any entities that discriminate against firearm or ammunition companies or trade associations.

In reaction to the weekend shooting that targeted a thriving Asian American suburb in California, some Republicans noted that strict gun laws in blue states like California do little to stop the violence. The guns used in those shootings, however, are often imported from states with looser gun restrictions.

Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, told CNN he would not support any gun safety measure as a response to the epidemic of mass shootings in the country. Instead, Mr. McCaul said the way to combat gun violence was to collect public information online about potentially dangerous or unstable individuals, in order to stop threats before they happen.

“The way I look at it is, we need the intelligence, we need information sharing, we need to connect the dots,” he said, adding that many of the shooters who ultimately carry out massacres “had warning signs along the way, we just didn’t respond or pick it up.”

In passing the bipartisan gun bill last year, the Senate upended nearly three decades of congressional paralysis on toughening the nation’s gun laws.

Even then, the legislation was not seen as a harbinger of a new era of bipartisan compromise on an intractable issue, but rather a brief moment of bipartisanship that would be difficult to replicate. Most Republicans opposed the bill, and many of those who backed it were not up for re-election.

Those who did were branded as “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only, by former President Donald J. Trump, who is running for re-election, and by some of the more extreme members of the House Republican Conference, which now holds the majority.

Peter Baker and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.