WASHINGTON -- White House press secretary Jay Carney was reluctant to reopen a debate on gun control Monday after 13 people were killed in a mass shooting at Washington Navy Yard.
A shooter opened fire at the military installation Monday morning, killing 12 people and injuring an unknown number of others in the building. District Mayor Vincent Gray said the suspect's motives were not immediately clear, while police confirmed one shooter was dead and another potential suspect remained at large. Security was enhanced at the U.S. Capitol, located a mile from Navy Yard, and at the Pentagon.
Carney was pressed during his daily briefing with reporters on whether President Barack Obama would use the incident to renew his push for stricter gun laws.
"This is an ongoing investigation, it's an ongoing situation on the ground," Carney responded. "There are law enforcement officials right now dealing with this, doing everything they can to make sure people here in Washington are safe [and] people around the incident are safe."
"So it would be inappropriate to try to put in context something about which we have so few facts," he added.
But the issue was raised again when a reporter noted that at least seven mass shootings have taken place during Obama's presidency. Carney was asked why the administration hasn't pushed any new legislation to reduce gun violence since the Senate failed to pass a measure expanding background checks in April.
"These are unfolding facts on an unfolding and ongoing situation and investigation with regards to this particular shooting, which is tragic," Carney said again. "As the president said, since this is taking place on a military installation, the fact that men and women who understand the risks that they're taking when they work for the military and potentially get assigned overseas in dangerous places certainly did not imagine they were taking those kinds of risks when they showed up for work this morning on a domestic military installation."
"But it is far too early to say anything about who did this and the broader meaning of it," he added.
The White House spokesman offered general comments on the issue of gun control, pointing out that the president had been "very clear" in his stance on the issue.
"He was very clear with his significant disappointment with the Senate in its failure to pass commonsense legislation that was supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people, by majorities in blue states, purple states and red states," Carney said. "That was a shame ... and we will continue to work to take action to reduce gun violence in this country through executive action, and hopefully Congress will take action to reduce gun violence as well."
Earlier in the day, Obama also addressed the shooting at the top of a speech on the five-year anniversary of the financial crisis. The president condemned what he called a "cowardly act," but only alluded to the issue of gun violence.
"We're confronting yet another mass shooting. And today it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital," Obama said.
Carney sought to downplay suggestions that the president was hinting at giving gun control another try, telling reporters Obama was simply pointing to the facts.
"I think by definition when you have multiple fatalities ... that is a mass shooting. That's a fact," he said. "What the other facts are, we don't know yet, and we will await information about those facts."
It's not unusual for the White House to avoid politics in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy; hours after December's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Carney said it was "not the day" for a gun control debate, while the president called for "meaningful action" but stopped short of defining what that action would entail.
But circumstances have since changed for the Obama White House, which focused heavily on measures to reduce gun violence in the first 100 days of the president's second term. Obama responded to Newtown by unveiling the biggest legislative effort on gun laws in a generation, and fervently pushed Congress to enact legislation that would expand background checks. When that measure failed to pass the Senate, the president vowed to keep on fighting.
Since then, both the White House and Congress have moved on to a host of other pressing matters, such as immigration reform, Syria's civil war and ongoing budget battles. Obama signed two new executive actions last month aimed at reducing gun violence, but has not renewed his legislative push on gun control.
Incidentally, Monday's shooting took place a day after ABC aired an interview with Obama in which George Stephanopoulos asked the president about most of his second-term agenda, such as gun control, immigration reform and climate change, being either "stalled or reversing."
"I mean, gun control, we had 80, 90 percent of the country that agreed with it," Obama said.
"The problem is we have a faction of the Republican Party, in the House of Representatives in particular, that view compromise as a dirty word, and anything that is either remotely associated with me, they feel obliged to oppose," he added. "And my argument to them is real simple: 'That's not why the people sent you here.'"
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the number of victims.