It was the question about "grandstanding" that did it. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Sen. Bob Menendez, both D-N.J., had called a press conference to talk about some stuck legislation that would regulate extended magazines. They'd brought it up after Jared Lee Loughner bought one of those magazines and used it to spray bullets outside of a Tucson Safeway; the bill had gone nowhere. Now they were talking about it again, flanked by Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette and by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-NY, who ran for Congress after her husband was killed by Colin Ferguson's bullets while riding the Long Island Rail. And every question was either about the NRA, or about something another politician had said.
"Chris Christie has characterized this event today as grandstanding," said a reporter.
"You're asking me about my governor?" asked an irritated Lautenberg. He meandered through a non-answer, about how the goal was to build legislative support, then announced that the presser was over. Rep. McCarthy interrupted him. She wasn't done.
"I hope that I never have to stand here again at another press conference," she said. "I would like to go home. I would hope that I never have to face another tragedy like this. May I remind the majority of you" -- it was a youngish crop of reporters -- "when these tragedies happen, they call me. I don't call them. So to say that we are grandstanding, because people are killed, or we're grandstanding because some of us know what it feels like to watch your son learn how to walk again -- I own that right, to speak here, because I've been through it."
That shut everybody up. The NRA still hasn't responded, officially, to the Aurora shootings. One reason is that a cynical and experienced press corps knows that the Republican House won't pass any gun control bills, and that endangered Senate Democrats who court the NRA won't pass them, either. (Imagine Joe Manchin going against the NRA.) But McCarthy, who was re-elected by 8 points in 2010, sticks her head up every time there's an opening for gun control.
"I want to remind people," she said, "when everybody says something can't be done -- after Virginia Tech, I passed legislation in the House, it passed through the Senate, and President Bush signed it."
One thing she could have mentioned: The NRA actually got behind that bill.