The mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando raised a pressing question—why are civilians so easily able to purchase military-style weapons capable of immense destruction? The public is rightly horrified at the killing power Mateen wielded. At one point he fired 24 shots in nine seconds, and took 49 lives in a remarkably short period of time. Some survivors had calves and forearms blown off entirely by Mateen’s assault rifle. Polls show support for an assault weapon ban ticked up 13 percent after the shooting, with a majority of Americans (57 percent) now supporting one.
Hillary Clinton is speaking to this issue—on Monday, she once again called for the reinstitution of a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons, telling CBS This Morning, “We’ve got to keep weapons of war off our streets.”
In Washington, however, Clinton is standing nearly alone. There will be no imminent movement on assault weapons in Congress, and none of the major gun control groups that have been ascendant since Newtown even have a position on an assault weapons ban.
Senate Democrats did score a rare victory in the gun control fight late Wednesday, after Republicans in the chamber agreed to a vote on two pieces of gun-control legislation following a 14-hour filibuster launched by Senator Chris Murphy. Though the situation is still fluid, as of Thursday morning Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is prepared to allow votes on two bills: one that would deny gun sales to people who are or have been on the terror watch list, and another that would expand federal background checks for gun purchases to online sales and gun shows.
The prospects of the latter bill passing are almost nil (similar legislation couldn’t even clear 60 votes right after Newtown, when Democrats held the chamber), and then it’s not clear the bill targeting suspected terrorists will pass either. This might please civil libertarians, who have well-founded concerns about that legislation.
If Democrats also wanted to push on assault weapons, there are bills at the ready. Representative David Cicilline filed a bill in January, co-sponsored by 125 of his colleagues, that would institute an assault weapons ban. Democratic leadership in the House won’t press for a vote, however. Minority whip Steny Hoyer told The Hill that while a ban on assault weapons was the “surest” way to have prevented what happened in Orlando, “We also know that that legislation is going nowhere.”