A decade of congressional inaction on gun control

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Ct., speaks on a phone with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Murphy took to the Senate floor Tuesday and demanded that lawmakers accomplish what they failed to do after 20 children, mostly 6 or 7 years old, and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut died on Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Democrats in Congress are trying, again, to pass legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers in the wake of the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. But the prospects seem dim in the 50-50 Senate, with most Republicans opposed to significant changes in the nation's gun laws.

It's a familiar scenario for Democrats, who have been trying to expand the checks and otherwise boost gun control laws since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde.

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A look at Democrats' mostly failed efforts to strengthen gun control over the past decade:

APRIL 2013

Four months after Newtown, Senate Democrats fell five votes short of passing legislation to expand background checks for commercial gun sales, including at gun shows and on the internet.

The amendment in question, authored by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, included some measures intended to lure support from Republicans, including an expansion of some interstate gun sales.

The Senate, then led by Democrats, also defeated measures to ban assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. President Barack Obama called it a “shameful day for Washington.”


Now led by Republicans, the Senate defeated a 2013 Manchin-Toomey proposal by an even wider margin a day after a shooting at a social services center in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 people were killed and more than 20 wounded. The Senate also rejected two proposals that would have made it harder to purchase firearms for people the government suspected of being terrorists.

A week later, the GOP-led House blocked a Democratic effort to vote on legislation to curb gun purchases by suspected terrorists.

JUNE 2016

After a shooting in which 49 people were killed at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, the Senate held a series of votes on four measures — two proposed by Democrats, two by Republicans — that would have expanded background checks or make it harder for suspected terrorists to purchase guns. All four were defeated.

MARCH 2018

In the wake of 2017 shootings in Texas and Las Vegas and a 2018 school shooting in Florida, Congress passed a modest measure to help states comply with the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check system and penalize federal agencies that don’t comply.


President Donald Trump helped restart negotiations over the Manchin-Toomey proposal after one gunman opened fire at a shopping center in El Paso, Texas, and another attacked a popular nightlife spot in Ohio.

Attorney General Bill Barr floated a proposal for legislation on Capitol Hill, and Democrats held rare talks with the White House to try and broker a compromise. But the Trump administration proposal never reached the House or Senate floor after Congress, and Trump, became consumed with impeachment proceedings against the president.

MARCH 2021

The House passed two bills to expand and extend the review period for background checks. The first bill is similar to the Manchin-Toomey amendment but would also extend background checks to private gun sales, something the previous version wouldn’t have done.

The second bill would extend the review period for background checks from three to 10 days, a response to a 2015 shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C. The gunman in that shooting had obtained the gun after a three-day review even though he had a previous arrest report.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer vowed a vote on the House bills, and President Joe Biden said “we have to act.” But Senate action stalled, and a vote was not held, as Democrats in charge of the 50-50 Senate were unable to broker a bipartisan compromise. Republicans and Manchin said they didn’t support the effort to extend background checks to private sales.

MAY 2022

Amid outrage over the Texas elementary school shooting, Democrats are attempting to restart the negotiations on the background checks bills and on “red flag” laws that are designed to keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others.

Schumer again vowed a vote on gun control measures, but did not give a timeline.

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