Updated May 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Failed gun legislation is the norm after mass shootings

President Joe Biden and US First Lady Jill Biden arrive to a memorial near a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 17, 2022.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive at a memorial in Buffalo, New York, on May 17. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

After the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade, lawmakers are making emotional pleas for stricter gun control legislation. "What are we doing?" an impassioned Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on the Senate floor on Tuesday after an attack at a Texas elementary school killed at least 19 children and two adults.

The big picture: There's a familiar pattern. In the wake of a mass shooting, Congress zeroes in on gun and other relevant legislation, but Republicans won't support most new gun laws and Democrats don't have 50 senators who are willing to ditch the filibuster to take a majority vote.

  • The mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, less than two weeks ago, also brought legislation on domestic terrorism and guns into sharp focus for lawmakers.
  • Below is a list of some of the efforts to pass legislation after mass shootings in the past decade and what ultimately came of them.

Sandy Hook, December 2012

  • After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, in which 26 victims — including 20 children — were killed, Congress proposed a bipartisan bill expanding background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines.
  • More than 50 senators, including some Republicans, had indicated support for the bill, but it ultimately failed to get the necessary 60 votes.
  • A handful of Democrats from conservative states voted against the legislation, the New York Times reports.
  • The Senate also blocked Republican proposals to expand permission to carry concealed weapons and to increase law enforcement efforts on prosecuting gun crimes, per the Times.
  • Former President Obama said that the day of the failed vote was a "shameful day in Washington."

Charleston church, June 2015

  • When a white man opened fire at a Black church congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people, Democrats proposed legislation to tighten background checks.
  • Democrats sought to eliminate what became known as the "Charleston loophole," which allows people with incomplete background checks to purchase guns after three days, Politico reports.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the bill was never voted on in the House or Senate.
  • In 2021, the House passed two bills to expand background checks, including one that closed the "Charleston loophole."
  • The bill, introduced by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), would increase the review period of the initial background check from three to 10 days, but faced Republican opposition to pass the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

San Bernardino, December 2015

  • A shooting at a San Bernardino County Department of Public Health holiday party killed 14 people and injured 22 others.
  • One day after the shooting, the Senate rejected two gun control proposals introduced by Democrats on background checks, the Washington Post reports.

Pulse Nightclub, June 2016

  • The shooting at Pulse Nightclub was one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others.
  • A little over a week after the shooting, the Senate failed to advance four separate measures aimed at restraining gun sales, the New York Times reports.
  • The proposed bills would have prevented people on the federal terrorism watch list from buying guns and closed loopholes in background check laws, per the Times.

Las Vegas, October 2017

  • The mass shooting in Las Vegas, which killed 58 people and injured more than 500, prompted fresh calls from lawmakers on both sides to pass gun control legislation, including a ban on "bump stocks," which accelerates a semi-automatic rifle's rate of fire.
  • A measure to expand background checks was also introduced.
  • The measure failed to pass in Congress, but more than a year later former President Trump banned bump stocks under a Justice Department rule.
  • The rule went into effect despite court challenges, CNN reports.

Parkland, February 2018

  • The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which killed 17 people, spurred gun control laws on the state level, but gridlock made it harder for lawmakers on the national level.
  • Democratic lawmakers called for gun control legislation in the wake of the shooting, but Republican leaders largely stayed quiet.
  • Trump, facing pressure from the National Rifle Association, ditched promises he made to raise the minimum age to purchase rifles and to enforce universal background checks, per the Times.

El Paso, August 2019

  • Democratic leaders demanded action from Republican lawmakers in the wake of the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, which killed 23 people.
  • House Democrats introduced a package of gun restrictions, including a bill that would ban the manufacture and sale of large-capacity magazines.
  • Democrats also urged McConnell to vote on a measure passed in February of 2019 that advocates said was the most significant gun control measure in more than two decades, NPR reports.
  • McConnell, however, insisted that he would not take up legislation unless Trump had said he would sign it into law, per the Times.
  • Trump had vowed to veto the legislation, saying it would restrict the rights of gun owners.

Boulder and Atlanta, March 2021

  • President Biden after a series of shootings in one week in 2021 — one in a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, and multiple at Atlanta-area spascalled on Congress to pass gun control legislation.
  • He specifically urged the Senate to pass two House-approved bills to expand background checks and renew bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

What to watch: After the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Congress is considering a bill that would create offices within the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and the FBI focused on domestic terrorism.

  • The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act was stalled last month amid objections from progressive lawmakers, Axios' Andrew Solender reports.
  • "I think it takes on an urgency given current events," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told Axios.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with information on the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.

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