Liars and cowards defeat background-check bill in Senate
Polls show that between 80 and 90 percent of Americans support stronger background checks on firearms purchasers, and a majority of U.S. senators agree with them.
But THAT DIDN’T MATTER yesterday:
If there was ever a moment that symbolized the difference between the power of public opinion and the strength of a concerted minority, it came Wednesday when the Senate defeated a bipartisan measure to expand background checks on gun purchases.
By the time the vote took place, the outcome was expected. Nonetheless, the result was stunning, as was made clear by the angry reaction of President Obama, who had invested so much capital on getting gun legislation passed after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., only to see those efforts crushed on the legislation’s first real test.
Obama’s description — “a pretty shameful day for Washington” — captured the moment and summed up the frustrations that many ordinary Americans long have expressed about the capital, which is that the system appears tilted in favor of blocking action on important, if controversial, issues rather than enacting legislation to deal with them.
The proposal to expand background checks to sales at gun shows and on the Internet was sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), two gun rights supporters. It had the support of more than a majority of senators — 54 ayes to 46 nays — and it had the firm backing of the White House.
More significant, perhaps, in a polarized country is that the idea of expanded background checks received overwhelming support across the political spectrum. Nine in 10 Democrats, more than eight in 10 Republicans and independents, and almost nine in 10 Americans who live in households with guns backed the proposal, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. Nearly all of them said they “strongly” favored the plan.
In the ways of Washington, that still wasn’t enough.
“If you ever wanted a textbook example of intensity trumping preference, this is it,” said Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “You could have 100 percent of those polled saying they wanted universal background checks and it would still be defeated. You can’t translate poll results into public policy.”
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a victim of gun violence herself, puts the matter in PROPER PERSPECTIVE:
On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.
Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.
I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.
The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.
They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.
They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.
This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.
UPDATE: A perspective to bear in mind:
The senators who voted in favor of the background-checks bill represent 194 million people, roughly 65 percent of the entire American population.
The senators who voted against the measure represent 118 million people.