Thursday, April 18, 2013

"A pretty shameful day for Washington": Republicans block highly popular gun control measure to expand background checks

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, it was a bad bill (Manchin-Toomey, a bipartisan "compromise" that only a few Republicans supported), but it was something (expanded background checks mixed with various gun-"rights" provisions approved by the gun lobby (not the NRA, though, which is opposed to any and all gun control), and I suppose it was better than nothing (or maybe not), but it failed yesterday because of the Republican filibuster and the ongoing Republican demand that anything Republicans don't like requires a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate (to hell with democracy):

It failed by a vote of 54 to 46, with five Democrats voting against it. Only four Republicans supported it.

Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) voted against it. Reid supported the measure but voted against it to preserve his ability to bring the measure up again.

GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) voted "yes."

Some are saying it's a major blow for President Obama, who of course, post-Sandy Hook, has made gun control a central policy commitment of his second term. I'm not so sure. Expanded background checks have overwhelming public support (even most Republicans support them), even if the country remains divided on more comprehensive reform.

Even this limited measure only failed because the extremist, NRA-indebted Republican Party used the filibuster and benefitted from the disproportionate representation of small, rural states in the Senate to block it. And, really, that's the story here -- so much so that the president can continue to take his case directly to the people while further isolating the Republican Party way out on the far right.

Obama called yesterday "a pretty shameful day for Washington," and that, too, is part of the story. The president's approval ratings aren't great, but they're way higher than Congress's, and he can now make the case that a Congress no one likes won't even pass a hugely popular measure that is pretty much the least that ought to be done in the wake of the Newtown massacre (not to mention every other instance, day after day, of the appalling gun violence that plagues the country).

Part of me, I must admit, is happy that the bill failed, because I think its failure helps clarify just what the situation is in Washington, and what the Republicans are really all about (in case that wasn't clear enough already) and could/should compel gun control advocates, including in Congress, to push for better legislation. But of course I'm still appalled, if not at all surprised, by what happened yesterday, by this blatant failure of democracy, and for more on that I turn to Gabby Giffords, whose powerful op-ed in the Times is a must-read:

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation... 


Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I'm furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

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.


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. 

Yes, there must be political consequences.

But this isn't just about the Senate, it's about the House as well, and about the Republican Party and the powerful gun lobby to which it is beholden, and about the handful of Democrats who join Republicans on the wrong side of this issue, and about the filibuster and the crisis of American democracy. And it's not just about massacres like Newtown and Aurora and Tucson, it's about all gun violence, just as it's not just about keeping children safe but about keeping all Americans safe.

And it's not just about needing "a different Congress." This issue, like the crisis of democracy itself, is bigger than that, and what worries me is that what really seems to be needed is a different America, a more progressive America that may be coming but not anytime soon and certainly not without a fight from the right-wing powers that be.

And if the Democratic-"controlled" Senate can't even pass this, we shouldn't have much confidence that anything will change for the better.

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  • I think you need to do research and look who voted "nay" for the back ground checks. It lists on the Senate page that most democrats voted "nay' and a fair amount of Republicans votes "yea". I am sure this will not be approved because this administration and most of the people that support it blame EVERYTHING on Republicans. Even when it is 100% not true.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:27 PM  

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