WASHINGTON — Since the collapse of bipartisan gun control legislation in 2013, a succession of gruesome mass shootings has been greeted on Capitol Hill by thoughts, prayers and then inaction. But the killing of 12 people late Wednesday night at a California country and western bar came just 24 hours after Democrats — many of whom campaigned in support of gun control — regained the House majority in the midterm elections.
This time, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democrats’ longtime leader, has promised a legislative response when her party takes control in January.
“I do believe” there will be action, Ms. Pelosi said in an interview on CNN on Thursday, “because in this Congress, the one that we’re in right this minute, there is bipartisan legislation to have common sense background checks, to prevent guns going into the wrong hands.”
The legislation, most likely a revival of the bill written in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, could provide the first test for the new Democratic majority. That bill, written by Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, would subject almost all gun sales — including internet and gun-show transactions — to a federal background check.
Representative Conor Lamb has cautioned Democrats against any legislative package that would curtail gun owners’ ability to obtain firearms.CreditFederica Valabrega/Reuters
A number of victorious Democrats campaigned on reducing gun violence and strengthening gun laws, including Lucy McBath of Georgia, whose son was killed in a 2012 shooting; Jason Crow, from the suburbs of Denver, who made the mass shootings at Columbine High School and an Aurora, Colo., movie theater campaign rallying cries; and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a former C.I.A. officer who supports a ban on certain firearms with military-style features.
Gun safety marches and a new breed of advocates — most prominently, March for Our Lives, the movement led by the teenage survivors of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting — bolstered young voter turnout. Around two dozen candidates supported by the gun lobby were defeated on Tuesday, according to Giffords PAC, the gun safety group run by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in a mass shooting.
“We cannot let these tragedies become our new normal,” said Colin Allred, an incoming freshman Democrat who ousted a veteran Republican, Pete Sessions, in the suburbs north of Dallas. “I think we need to find a way to work together to find some real solutions to reduce gun violence, consistent with the Second Amendment.”
But a handful of other Democrats, including Representative Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, a former Marine who favors gun rights, have cautioned the party against any legislative package that would curtail gun owners’ ability to obtain firearms. And winning Democrats in districts from suburban Charleston, S.C., to Oklahoma City will have to be mindful of their fragile mandates — especially if any House legislation is destined to die in the Republican-controlled Senate or at President Trump’s desk.
That could limit Democratic leaders’ ambitions. Joe Cunningham, the Democratic representative-elect for South Carolina’s First District, said he would endorse a bill banning so-called bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic rifles to fire like automatic weapons, and strengthening background checks.
Lucy McBath, whose son was killed in a 2012 shooting, campaigned on reducing gun violence and strengthening gun laws.CreditLynsey Weatherspoon for The New York Times
“I think some of these things can be accomplished without infringing on the Second Amendment,” Mr. Cunningham, a gun owner with a concealed carry permit, said.
Other incoming freshmen said Congress cannot be timid. Tom Malinowski, an incoming freshman Democrat from New Jersey, noted the longstanding bipartisan support to expand background checks.
“Keep in mind that even in the Republican House of Representatives, there was a working majority to pass at least universal background checks,” Mr. Malinowski said. “The only reason it didn’t happen is the leadership was too terrified to allow a vote. The new leadership obviously won’t be.”
Ms. Pelosi, who remains confident that she will reclaim the speaker’s gavel next year, said on Thursday that public support would serve as an impetus for moderate Republicans to endorse background check legislation.
“I do believe that our strength is in the public involvement,” Ms. Pelosi said on Thursday.
According to Gallup, 61 percent of Americans want stricter gun laws, and there is even more support for universal background checks and red-flag laws, which allow a judge to issue an order that enables law enforcement officers to confiscate guns from individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others. Such initiatives could garner support from more moderate Republicans and their counterparts in the Senate.