President Barack Obama called on Congress to act on gun control Thursday in a stirring speech.
"Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked," he said, invoking the memory of last year's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. "And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten. I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we've forgotten," the president said at the White House Thursday.
Obama is not alone in reminding Americans about the tragedy. Mayors Against Illegal Guns advocated a national day to demand action with more than 100 gatherings across the United States, but despite the public momentum and high polling for gun control, the outlook for comprehensive gun legislation remains doubtful.
In April, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring a package of gun reform legislation to the floor for a vote including a measure to make background checks "universal," a provision that would allocate more money for school safety and make straw purchasing, a practice where people buy guns for those who are prohibited from purchasing them, a federal crime.
Still, there are roadblocks aplenty on Capitol Hill and here are three of them:
1. A Filibuster Threat
Three Republicans, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Mike Lee, R-Utah, all signed a letter to Reid this week threatening to "oppose the motion to proceed," a procedural hudle the Senate needs to overcome before a comprehensive package of gun-control legislation can be brought up for a vote. A filibuster makes Reid's job a lot tougher because instead of needing a simple majority of 51 votes to move the bill, he's going to need to get 60 votes to pass the legislation and that means he cannot have any independent or Democratic defections and he must convince five Republicans to get on board. Thursday, Lee appeared to reaffirm that he won't let stricter gun laws glide through the Senate without putting up a fight.
"The proposals the president is calling for Congress to pass would primarily serve to reduce the constitutionally protected rights of law-abiding citizens while having little or no effect on violent crime," Lee said in a press release. "It is deeply unfortunate that he continues to use the tragedy at Newtown as a backdrop for pushing legislation that would have done nothing to prevent that horrible crime. Along with my colleagues Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, I have informed the Majority Leader that we will exercise our procedural right to require a 60-vote threshold in order to bring any of the president's proposals to the floor."
2. Democrats Facing Reelection
During the budget "vote-a-rama'"Saturday morning, before 5 a.m., senators passed by the slim margin of 50-49 a measure to require a 67-vote majority to pass new gun laws in their chamber. Democratic senators like Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who are both up for reelection, voted for the amendment. Of course, the measure won't become law because it was part of a budget bill that would never pass the House of Representatives. But the display reveals how carefully Democrats in conservative states are weighing their options when it comes to gun control especially on legislation like "universal" background checks, which the National Rifle Association opposes.
3. Background Checks Are No Certainty
After Newtown, background checks appeared to have widespread support. While a proposed ban on assault weapons, which had been the law from 1994 to 2004, was greeted with criticism by gun-rights advocates as a "feel-good" fix, background checks enjoyed broad support among the American public even in conservative states. A Quinnipiac poll in gun-friendly Virginia showed 92 percent of Virginians supported more comprehensive background checks.
But the proposal, which would require individuals to keep private records of gun sales they make, worried Republicans who were concerned the bill could lead to the creation of a national gun registry. The bill passed out of committee along party lines. While Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have worked overtime to reach a compromise, they have yet to yield a bill both sides can agree on.
A GOP aide told U.S. News "They are still hopeful that they will come to an agreement."
Meanwhile, as Senate Democrats fight to build enough support in their caucus to pass gun-control legislation, ranking Judiciary Committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is working on an alternative bill to give Republicans an option that would give them some political cover. But few details about what the bill would do are still under wraps.
"The bill is still being written, and it is just an alternative to reduce gun violence," says a spokesman in Grassley's office. "Sen. Grassley wants to address gun violence in a manner that does not violate the constitution that is why he is working on a separate bill."