CAPITOL HILL— One day after deadly shootings at Washington’s Navy Yard, U.S. lawmakers are asking how a man reported to have mental health issues and a history of firearms misuse was able to secure federal employment and gain access to a secure military facility.
But the legislators disagree on whether Congress should revisit gun control legislation in response to the nation’s latest mass shooting incident.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who represents Newtown, Conn., where 26 people, mostly children, were gunned down last year at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has been one of the Senate’s most vocal proponents of gun control legislation.
He said the Navy Yard shootings are a bitter reminder of why tougher laws are needed.
“People out there do not understand why Congress does nothing as these shootings continue to mount," he said. "I think people in Newtown shake their heads when they see another shooting and further potential indifference from Congress.”
Fellow Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois noted that, earlier this year, gun control legislation died in the Senate as a result of mostly Republican opposition to new restrictions and requirements for firearms purchases.
“We have to do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of those who would misuse them — felons who have a history of misusing firearms, the mentally unstable who cannot be trusted to have a firearm.”
Republican lawmakers show little interest in revisiting gun control, but several said the Navy Yard incident raises other important issues.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said the shooter, Aaron Alexis, never should have been cleared for duty as a military contractor.
“To me, it is not about gun control," he said. "It is about what has happened with our contractor force. How could [Alexis] pass a background check to get a job with the federal government after he had misused a weapon twice? When you shoot a guy’s tires out because you are mad at him, you are a good candidate not to work for the federal government.”
Fellow Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona noted that, in addition to gun-related brushes with the law, Alexis had been receiving mental health treatment.
“We also should focus our attention on people who show mental instability and whether they should have access to weapons or not," he said. "I think all Americans are in agreement on that.”
But Senator Murphy of Connecticut said that addressing mental health issues, though long overdue, is not enough.
“I am ready to put more money into mental health any day that Republicans are willing to join me, but that is not a gun bill," he said.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney accused gun control opponents of disregarding the will of the people in favor of the nation’s politically potent gun rights groups.
“When you vote against 80 or 90 percent of the American people, when you vote against a majority of your constituents, in answer to, or at the behest of, a special interest, you are serving that narrow special interest," he said. "You are not serving your constituents.”
At the Capitol, lawmakers are likely to take note of the fate of two state legislators in Colorado who recently were ousted in a recall vote after backing gun control legislation.