Friday April 19, 2013

Alden Graves

"Shame on you!" - Patricia Maisch, who survived the Tucson slaughter

Remember these names: Max Baucus (D-Mont), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

We are all accustomed by now to watching Republican members of congress ignore the best interests of the majority of the American people and fall meekly in line behind legislation that feeds the voracious corporate appetite in this country. Seldom has that fact been so conspicuously on display as it was on April 17, 2013.

In their cloistered and privileged world, the president’s sweeping health care reform doesn’t extend potentially life-saving benefits to people who can’t afford them, it is a deterrent to those who don’t have to worry about such piddling matters (including every single member of Congress) to reap even more profits from our hallowed free enterprise system. Climate change will remain a myth until the Koch brothers can’t find another scientist to pay to dispute it or another fossil in a think tank to contemptuously dismiss it.

While our elected leaders alternately fawn and dither, people continue to die. They succumb to illnesses that were not treated.


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They die from breathing polluted air, drinking contaminated water, or fall victim to unprecedented storms like the one W. flew over.

The tacit refusal by some members of Congress to face the carnage caused by unrestricted and unregulated gun sales in America have raised the bar on lunacy to a new high. The horror over the bombings in Boston assume a little more perspective when you consider that 270 people are victims of gun related violence every single day in the United States. Where’s the collective horror over that grim statistic?

The Guardians of the Second Amendment might benefit from a crash course in what democracy is supposed to be about. Ninety percent of the American people supported the bipartisan bill drawn up by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to require more extensive background checks on people who intend to buy firearms. President Obama supported it. Responsible gun owners supported it. The devastated parents of children lost in the Newtown slaughter set aside their grief to travel to Washington to urge Congress to pass the bill.

Compared to what we really need for sensible gun control in America, the bill was a little like pouring a packet of Kool-Aid into Lake Champlain and expecting the water to taste like cherries. The ban on military-type assault weapons has already gone down in flames along with attempts to limit the bullet capacity of magazines capable of spraying multiple death at the touch of a trigger.

I doubt that the public realistically expected our beholdin’ members of Congress to impose a ban on Rambo-type assault weapons and the defeat did provide a level of comfort for those people in the country who expect to be invaded by El Salvador at any moment. But the Toomey/Manchin bill was a start toward something substantive and the NRA and its misbegotten allies don’t want something that even hints at a start.

President Obama touched on an interesting point in his remarks after the bill was voted down by the Senate, another victim of filibustering and craven political (and personal) cowardice. He said that not one single senator who voted to kill the bill could offer a coherent reason for doing so. He was right. What coherent reason could anyone give for objecting to regulations that would prevent convicted felons and mentally unstable persons from having access to firearms?

Even the fable-weavers at the NRA couldn’t come up with a valid excuse for opposing background checks, so they concocted a lie that the checks would result in a national database of gun owners that the government could use in the future when it decided to take away everybody’s guns. For an organization that thrives on stirring up paranoia about "jack-booted thugs" in the Big Bad Government, it was sheer genius, but it was still a lie. In actuality, compiling such a list could result in a 15-year jail term.

April 17 was, in some ways, a revelatory day. Not in the sense that some miraculous beam of enlightenment shone down on that musty chamber in Washington, but as an example of how the people who occupy it are perfectly willing to jettison any pretense at attempts to insure something as fundamental to government as a concern for public safety if they sense that it might adversely interfere with their own ambition. How easily we are swayed by expressions of lofty platitudes about the infringement of constitutional rights that are really just a carefully calculated strategy to stymie a perceived threat to a multi-billion dollar business. It’s the money involved that keeps this country an armed battleground, not any hypocritical adherence to grand principles.

If the four abovementioned Democrats had been invested with a little more grit and a little less self-interest, the bill would have passed. I guess the lives of our children are a small price to pay if, by attempting some miniscule effort to prevent another Newtown, Max Barcus goes down to defeat. And you have to wonder if Heidi Heitkamp even glanced up at the mothers of the kids who died in Connecticut sitting in the gallery before she cast her vote.

While we wait for the next Newtown, we shouldn’t forget the names of those in Washington whose fingers are already curled around the trigger.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.