Friday April 19, 2013

With the attention of the nation on the aftermath of the deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday, a minority in the U.S. Senate managed this week to completely scuttle any meaningful expansion of federal gun regulation -- for now.

With votes on Wednesday, Senate Republicans, backed by a small band of rural-state Democrats, rejected tighter background checks for buyers and a ban on assault weapons. The defeat of an assault weapons ban was expected. On expanding federal background checks to include gun shows and online sales, 90 percent of Republicans, aided by four Democrats upheld a filibuster to kill the background check amendment. So, even though the vote was 54 "yes" and 46 "no" to proceed with the amendment, it did not receive the 60 votes required in the senate to break the filibuster.

The fact that polls consistently show that 90 percent of the public supports universal background checks, it apparently wasn’t enough. Some senators, including two with top ratings from the National Rifle Association, Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, had the courage to push for meaningful background checks. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona bucked his party to vote for background checks; Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, of New Jersey, who is suffering from cancer, came to the senate in a wheelchair to vote for background checks. But servile fear of the NRA, which provided cover with the lie that the proposal would create a federal gun registry, won the day in the Senate.

"Unfortunately, this pattern of untruths about this legislation serve its purpose," said President Obama. "They caved to pressure, and they started looking for an excuse -- any excuse -- to vote ‘no.’"

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona from 2007 to 2012, who was shot in the head in a 2011 incident in which a deeply disturbed gunman killed 6 people, was unsparingly blunt.

"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, (Conn). 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," Giffords wrote. "And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them."

Giffords writes that this was not a "tough vote." Instead, "these senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending."

The common good and the will of the people, how a huge majority of Americans would have voted if the issue were put to them, clearly didn’t matter much in these calculations.

But despite Wednesday’s defeat, the advocacy for sensible legislation by so many of the parents and families of the 20 small children and six educators mercilessly gunned at Sandy Hook Elementary School will not end here. Nor will the efforts end of other survivors of gun violence, nor the efforts of groups like Americans for Responsible Solutions, started by Ms. Giffords and her former-astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, which focuses on gun violence.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has withdrawn the gun legislation for now but has the power to bring it forward again in the future.

Now that the horrific carnage at Newtown has put the issue of sensible federal gun regulation back on the national agenda after a several-year absence, efforts to protect Americans’ right to be safe in public will indeed continue.

"This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul," Giffords writes. "Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way."

~ Mark E. Rondeau