Few Options, Little Time for New Gun Control Laws

Fight over gun control is underway in Washington, but debt ceiling might end it soon.

Arizona Democratic Rep. Ron Barber -- a victim of the 2011 Tucson shooting -- warns that Congress should act, or risk being 'reminded by another mass shooting.'
By + More

On the first day of the 113th Congress, 10 pieces of gun-related legislation were introduced, many of which sat dormant in committee during the last session.

Proposals ranged from reinstating a ban on assault weapons to tightening laws on how people obtain guns. But whatever legislation eventually passes through Congress regarding gun control, the change may only be moderate, and that's only if Congress decides to act before diving back into the nation's debt debate.

"You would have thought Tucson when you had a beloved Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and a nine-year-old girl killed would have been the moment," says Daniel Webster, the Chairman for the Center for Gun Policy at Johns Hopkins University. "How her colleagues in Congress could look themselves in the mirror and not do anything was beyond me, but something about the innocence of these children really struck a chord with so many people."

Democrats from conservative states would prefer a focus on mental healthcare reforms and House Republicans appear vehemently opposed to restricting gun ownership or reinstating something akin to an assault weapons ban.

[RELATED: Conservatives Plan 'Gun Appreciation Day']

"If I had to read the political tea leaves, the harder the administration pushes, the more likely the House will dig in against reinstating an all-out ban," says Jeff Green, a lobbyist for the firearms industry.

There are some gray areas, however, where less drastic reforms could pass, Green says.

"If we look to a compromise, it revolves around the things that neither side likes like limiting high capacity magazines over 10 rounds," Green says.

Webster says another moderate approach Congress could adopt would be to eliminate the "gun show loophole," which allows buyers to purchase firearms from unlicensed dealers at trade shows without background checks.

"No one thinks [the current law] makes any sense," Webster says. "If that is all we do, that is a huge step forward."

[ENJOY: Political Cartoons About Gun Control]

But with another fiscal fight brewing over the debt ceiling, the clock is ticking. Webster says if there was ever a time to pass legislation, this is it.

Arizona Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, who was shot in Tucson along with former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, told U.S. News there is growing support on Capitol Hill for closing the gun show loophole and bolstering mental health programs across the country, but the window of opportunity is dwindling.

"People do forget and in this era of 24-hour news, something else will come along and push this issue out of the public's attention," Barber says. "There may be a lot of opportunities, reminders if you will. I hope we won't be reminded by another mass shooting."

The White House unveiled a task force in December to tackle a politically palatable approach to gun control, looking toward universal background checks, keeping better mental health records and adopting stricter laws against carrying weapons on school property. Their plans have received mixed reviews.

[RELATED: Wal-Mart Weapons Under the Gun]

While making an appearance on ABC's This Week Sunday, North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said the White House's proposal is "way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about. And it's not gonna pass."

After those comments, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence announced a new ad slamming Heitkamp, which was featured in a few D.C. publications as well as a handful of newspapers in North Dakota.

"Shame on you, Heidi Heitkamp for telling the country on Sunday that the Obama Administration's response to Newtown ... is extreme," the ad says.

Even with Heitkamp voicing her displeasure with the task force, the broader political landscape doesn't look conducive to any major reforms on gun control.

Meanwhile, Giffords—the victim of a 2011 shooting in Tucson that left her with significant brain damage—is on the offensive launching a new gun-control group while money from both gun control and pro-gun lobbies pours into Capitol Hill.