"There must be a groundswell of urgency from Americans pushing their elected officials," implored Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, where nine people were shot to death last week at a community college.
At a news conference on the Capitol steps, Democratic senators from states where mass shootings killed dozens of people outlined three "principles of action" they want adopted to curb gun violence. Those ideas center on improving background checks and curbing illegal gun sales to keep weapons from the many unstable people behind these shootings.
"The roll call of American gun tragedies is already far, far too long," said Wyden before reading off a list of afflicted communities, including Roseburg, Oregon, site of last week's shooting. "The victims and their families deserve better than a Congress that shrugs its shoulders and waits for the next tragedy."
The Senate push comes after President Barack Obama, exasperated by the shootings during his years in the White House, urged a congressional response
It also comes in the wake of controversial comments by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson who suggested in a recent interview that the victims in the Oregon shooting should have taken bolder action to stop their attacker.
Democrats want to close what they say is a loophole in the law that doesn't require background checks for guns sold over the Internet or at gun shows. They also want to prevent a gun buyer from obtaining the weapon until after a background check is completed. They would do that by eliminating a provision that allows a gun purchase to go forward if the background check is not completed after three days, something they said happened with the gunman in the Charleston church shooting this year that left nine parishioners dead.
In addition, Democrats want to expand the definition of a domestic abuser who would be barred from buying guns and make "straw" purchases and gun trafficking federal crimes.
"We're here to start a national movement," said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, who was governor of his state when the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre left 32 dead. "The only way we can keep the weapons out of the hands of those who are convicted felons, or terrorists, or those who are abusers or stalkers, or those who have been adjudicated as mentally ill and dangerous, is to have a background record system that works."
Similar background check legislation failed to pass the Senate in 2013 after the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, stirred a national debate.
Republicans are wary of passing new gun laws but they want to do more to care for the mentally ill, who are responsible for many of the attacks. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican leader, pushed legislation Thursday to give families, courts and law enforcement better tools to deal with mentally ill people.
"Some of our Democratic colleagues have said that they're going to introduce some gun control legislation that we all know has been tried before and cannot pass this chamber," Cornyn said. "What we need is a broad consensus to try to get something done that can bring people together, and I believe my legislation can do that by addressing the root cause of some of these horrific events."
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who is expected to be the next Democratic leader, managed the news conference. He told reporters he hoped to act in the next several months on the legislation once a groundswell of support is apparent.
"Once that groundswell is heard, we will draft legislation in line with these principles and then at the right time we will make sure there is a vote on the floor using all the procedural means that we can," he said.