A year after background check defeat, modest goals

WASHINGTON — Democratic worries about this November’s elections, a lack of Senate votes, and House opposition are forcing congressional gun-control supporters to winnow their 2014 agenda, a year after lawmakers scuttled President Obama’s effort to pass new curbs on firearms.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, recently said he needs additional votes before revisiting a proposed expansion of gun sale background checks that the Senate derailed last April. That has left advocates of tighter gun curbs hoping Reid will allow votes on more modest proposals, such as one by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, to add convicted stalkers to the list of criminals barred from acquiring guns.

But with Reid wary of exposing Democratic senators facing tight reelection contests in conservative and Western states to politically risky votes — and the Republican-run House showing no appetite to restrict guns — people are not holding their breath waiting for proposed restrictions to reach the Senate floor before Election Day.


‘‘This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight,’’ said Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. ‘‘There are obviously a lot of other considerations and variables in play here, like elections.’’

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Klobuchar’s bill on stalkers would play into Democrats’ campaign-season theme of pushing legislation that appeals to women, a key Democratic voting bloc. She said Tuesday she has discussed her legislation with Reid but did not ask about holding a vote because she is first trying to round up Republican support to make the measure bipartisan.

Democratic caution has been displayed several times recently, even as the December 2012 killings of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that fanned interest in firearms restrictions fade into the past.

The September 2013 shooting deaths of 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard and this week’s slaying of three people outside Jewish community centers in Overland Park, Kan., were greeted with no fresh Democratic legislative pushes. And in the face of National Rifle Association opposition last month, the White House paused its effort to push its surgeon general nominee through the Senate — Dr. Vivek Murthy, a Harvard Medical School physician, Obama political organizer, and gun-control supporter.

‘‘They’re waiting for another tragedy to exploit,’’ Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said of the Senate hiatus on activity.


White House officials say they have not abandoned the issue. They cite 23 executive orders Obama issued last year, including restarting research on gun violence, plus starting to close a loophole that let felons get machine guns by registering them to trusts or corporations.

‘‘We’re just going to keep pushing until Congress does the right thing,’’ presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett told gun- control activists last week.