Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Congressional Cowards Need to Bite the Bullet

What we have in Congress (to paraphrase the iconic line from “Cool Hand Luke”) is a failure to legislate. That was quite evident last week after the Senate failed to strengthen existing gun laws, even without breaching the Second Amendment. On top of everything else, because it was subject to the 60-vote threshold mandated by perplexing Senate procedures required to end filibusters, a 45 percent minority — too afraid to challenge the all-too-controlling National Rifle Association — ignored the will of the majority.
The American people — pardon the phrase — should be up in arms over the botched legislation that would have strengthened and expanded background checks for gun sales.
With the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre still fresh in our minds, it was disgraceful, albeit not shocking, that nearly four dozen senators did nothing to assuage the painful memories of victims’ families or the overwhelming support of the American public in a clear cut triumph for the National Rifle Association.
The Gang of  45
The legislation would have extended background checks for buyers at gun shows and to online transactions. The 54-46 tally was six votes short of what was needed to break a filibuster. Under the current law, although people who want to obtain a gun need a background check for some purchases, such as from a licensed dealer, friends and neighbors, it is unnecessary for them to go through the process for other types of sales.
While the senators who voted against the compromise proposal were mostly Republicans, a handful of Democrats joined their gun-loving GOP colleagues. In fact, one senator blatantly demonstrated his loyalty to the gun lobby. Montana Democratic Max Baucus, who has a reputation for commonly backing special interest groups at the expense of his constituents, who, in this matter, strongly support background checks for gun purchases, sided with the opposition.
One has to wonder if even a massacre in their own backyards would be enough to coerce these NRA-coddled legislators to change their votes.
The NRA frequently argues that existing gun laws need to be better enforced, though it continuously lobbies for amendments and riders to legislation that makes it increasingly difficult for federal agencies to carry out their tasks. And, still, the NRA refuses to acknowledge the thousands of gun owners who clearly understand the need to balance public safety with their rights and champion common sense gun reform.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, almost every American, especially our legislators, was more than willing to accept new restrictions in order to preserve our freedom and safety. So, why does it seem impossible to establish common sense gun restrictions — that do not infringe the Second Amendment — that would further protect our well-being?
Despite the clamor for stricter gun control in the aftermath of the December school shootings, support has steadily weakened. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll showed that 49 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, a nine percent drop since January.
The NRA and others who interpret the Second Amendment to justify personal interests should ponder what conservative columnist George Will wrote in 1991: “Whatever right the Second Amendment protects is not as important as it was 200 years ago...The government should deconstitutionalize the subject by repealing the embarrassing Amendment.”
The Second Amendment was ratified when Americans lived in log cabins, hunted for food and relied on an armed and regulated militia for defense and security, at a time when weapons were far less lethal or capable of inflicting mass casualties.
It’s long past the time when politicians, elected to serve the people who elected them, react to a senseless tragedy by ignoring their electorate and supporting the demands of special interests. Numerous polls in recent months have demonstrated that 90 percent of the nation supports expanded background checks. But, obviously some legislators are not among them. Sadly, in Congress, the majority doesn’t always rule, when democracy’s key principle is repeatedly distorted and the conscience of the nation has little impact.
The bill would have been a rare victory for gun control advocates — even though the precise language of the legislation was flawed — yet most of the “nay” votes were undeniably due to politicians commonly influenced by, or fearful of, the NRA. By their April 17 vote, our gutless elected officials proved they are more indebted to the gun lobby than they are to their constituencies and overwhelming public opinion.
Gun control may be out of the spotlight, especially with the media riveted to the post-Boston Marathon bomb investigation. Even so, the 45 senators who caved to the NRA agenda, as they trampled on the graves of the 26 victims of the Newtown massacre, deserve to be serenaded with TV journalist Arnold Diaz’s investigative series refrain, “Shame, shame, shame on you!”
According to the Huffington Post, since the Newtown, CT, shootings, there have been more than 2,200 gun-related deaths across the nation. Long after Wild West shoot-‘em ups were tamed, gun control remains a barrier for a safe and sound America. That problem, nonetheless, will never be duly tackled, as long as spineless elected officials refuse to do a damn thing to endorse stricter gun laws.
For the good of the country, legislators fearful of NRA reprisals at election time need to bite the bullet — if they hope to protect it.