What was widely seen as President Obama’s best chance to get some sort of gun control passed in Congress fell by the wayside Wednesday when proponents of an amendment that would expand background checks for gun buyers failed to gain the supermajority it needed to pass the Senate.
When the vote was announced, the amendment offered by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was endorsed by 54 senators, but rejected by 46, leaving the amendment six votes short of the 60 it needed to pass.
The amendment was unpopular with Republican senators — both of Georgia’s senators, Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, and Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, voted against it. Four of the 45 GOP senators, including former Republican presidential nominee John McCain, R-Ariz., voted for the amendment.
Meanwhile, five of the 53 Democrats in the Senate crossed to vote against the amendment, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The two senators who are independent but who caucus with Democrats supported the measure.
The Manchin-Toomey amendment softened background check proposals by including exemptions for private sales and gifts between families and friends. It also prohibited a national registry of guns. Those changed didn’t sway enough votes for its passage.
It was the first of a number of gun restrictions pushed by the president, and the one that observers thought had the best chance of passing the chamber, though it was all but certain to be rejected by the House. Others, such as limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines and banning “assault-style” weapons, are seen as having no chance in the Senate.
Isakson, in a meeting with The Albany Herald Editorial Board earlier this month, had been confident in predicting that the Senate would not sign on with the president’s agenda to increase gun ownership restrictions.
“The Second Amendment is too important to the people of Georgia and the United States,” Isakson said, adding the background check requirements had a conflict with, among other things, medical privacy issues.
His forecast was accurate when he said there would be “a lot of posturing, a lot of politics, but it won’t pass.”
The biggest common thread that couldn’t be resolved, he said, was the mental health issue. “The difficulty is you have to have a registry that you can check,” he said, but establishing that registry would violate an individual’s right to privacy while seeking medical care. “Those privacy laws are tough, as they should be,” Isakson said.
In the end, the restrictions proposed by gun-control proponents were not going to be effective if their purpose was to cut down on criminal gun violence. But there are some steps Congress can take, such as finding the money to improve mental health care, which is abysmally funded now, and to make sure law enforcement agencies and courts have the manpower and resources to effectively enforce of gun laws already on the books.