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A week after gun legislation suffered a stinging defeat in the Senate, an uncomfortable realization has settled over the Capitol that it will likely take another mass shooting or similar tragedy to reignite momentum for gun control.

President Obama called last week’s vote “round one.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pledged that it was “just the beginning.” But gun-control advocates, both inside and outside of Congress, have identified no immediate path forward to alter a political landscape that left them five votes short in the Senate of passing a bill requiring expanded background checks for gun purchases.

Focus in the Capitol has already shifted to immigration, renewed fiscal skirmishes, and the Boston bombings (though some questions remain over how the suspects obtained firearms). Even Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the chief Republican coauthor of the background-check plan, has said it is time to move on.

Proponents of new gun restrictions still hope to use the 2014 elections to upend the current dynamics, in which voting against the gun lobby is deeply feared, especially in GOP-leaning states. They plan to rely upon the impassioned pleas of the families of the Newtown shooting victims, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s money, and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ national stature. Before the next election, though, the truth is that another tragedy may be the only way to shake loose the legislation.

“Unfortunately, tragically, regrettably, there’ll be other incidents of gun violence that will remind us of how much is at stake,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who has pushed hard for new gun laws after the December shooting that left 20 elementary school students dead.

The calls for stricter gun laws were loudest in the immediate aftermath of Newtown. But as the weeks and months passed, the powerful National Rifle Association, which opposed virtually any new firearm limits, including background checks, regained its footing.

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