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The way forward on guns

Opinion Column

Victories often contain the seeds of future defeats. So it is — or at least should be — with the Senate’s morally reprehensible rejection of expanded background checks for gun buyers.

The outcome is a test of both an invigorated gun safety movement and a gun lobby that decided to go for broke.

The National Rifle Association assumed that blocking new gun legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre would firmly establish its dominance. Advocates of sane gun regulations would scatter in despair and be torn apart by recriminations.

But there is a flaw in the gun lobbyists’ calculation: Their strategy leaves the initiative entirely in the hands of their opponents. The early evidence is that rage over the cowardly capitulation of so many senators to raw political power is pushing activists against gun violence to redouble their efforts.

What was striking about Wednesday’s vote is that many of the senators who had expressed support for universal background checks after the slaughter at Newtown meekly abandoned their position when the roll was called.

Proponents of the measure, including Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, spoke of private meetings in which senators offered no substantive objections to the compromise negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. The wobbling legislators simply hinted that politics would not permit them to vote “yes.”

Giffords, the victim of the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to battle on behalf of gun reforms. She responded to the Senate vote with an op-ed in The New York Times that declared plainly: “I’m furious.” Senators, she said, “looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.”

Giffords’ frustration echoed sentiment all across her side of the debate. In the past, Democrats who support gun safety had reacted benignly to members of their party from rural states who opposed sensible gun measures for expediency’s sake. Not this time. The response to Democrats who opposed background checks — Sens. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Heidi Heitkamp and Mark Pryor — was indignation.

Begich invited scorn by insulting those who insisted that the Newtown massacre ought to be the last straw.

“It’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment,” he said. “Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.” Describing the reaction to the death of so many children as “emotional” rather than rational should be electorally disqualifying.

But the vote also demonstrated for all to see a Republican Party walking in lockstep behind its commanders in the gun lobby. Only four Republicans bravely defied the NRA’s fanatical opposition to a very mild measure, including Toomey and Sens. Mark Kirk, John McCain, and Susan Collins.

This should send a message to all who keep looking for new signs of Republican moderation.

Republicans who cultivate a reputation for reasonableness — their ranks include, among others, Sens. Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Saxby Chambliss and Rob Portman — could not even vote for a watered-down proposal. This tells us that the GOP has become a coalition of the fearful. In a pinch, the party’s extreme lobbies rule.

This vote also made clear that the right wing is manipulating our system, notably by abusing the filibuster, to impose a political minority’s will on the American majority. Since when is 90 percent of the nation not “the Real America”?

Not only do Americans overwhelmingly endorse background checks; senators representing the vast majority of our people do, too. The “yes” votes Wednesday came from lawmakers representing 63 percent of the population. How can our democracy thrive when a willful minority can keep dictating to the rest of the country?

But the next steps are up to the supporters of gun sanity. They can keep organizing to build on the unprecedented effort that went into this fight — or they can give up. They can challenge the senators who voted “no,” or they can leave them believing that the “safe” vote is always with the NRA. They can bolster senators who cast particularly courageous “yes” votes — among them, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan — or they can leave them hanging.

The story of reform in America is that it often takes defeats to inspire a movement to build up the strength required for victory. Which way this story goes is up to us.

Email E.J. Dionne at ejdionne@washpost.com.

Comments

Pappa 1 year ago

If someone put half as much effort towards our nation's real problem(16 trillion), then we might have a future to debate the destruction of the constitution.

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USTPC 1 year ago

True, but considering the ultimate goal of Socialists is to destroy the American economy in order to gain control of the American people that will never be the priority. The goal is one world order and the only way that happens is if the US falls.

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B4it 1 year ago

EJ, and the recent C Tucker opinion, have extremely flawed reasoning abilities that renders their opinions to be non-credible. I will not use the typical democrated response of "the vote has been taken, so get over it". We all have the right to express an opinion. What matters is how credible the facts are when making the opinionated statements. For EJ to say "Advocates of sane gun regulations..." indicates to vote against the proposed new regulations would be insane. What about considering they were being sane enough to recognize the new regulations would solve little in protecting innocent children from being slaughtered by those who have no respect for human life and would find other methods or killing tools to do harm without going through a background check?

EJ has also made references that Congress caved to the NRA's demands, which indicates Congress did not make their own decisions based on criteria that would not be in the best interest of all citizens. So if the democrats make healthcare decisions based on what may also be advocated by the Insurance Companies, then should we also assume that Congress caved to this lobbying group? THINK about it.

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USTPC 1 year ago

B4it...the flaw in your argument is that Socialists think everything they do is in the best interest of the citizens and everything Republicans do is in the best interest of Republicans. Therefore, Obamacare was passed even though 60% or more of American citizens were against it. Socialists also believe that pesky little thing called the constitution is an outdated document that prevents them from doing whatever it is they want done.

EJ (as does Obama and members of congress) ignores the fact that the Senate and the House were set up specifically to prevent large population areas from dictating to lower population areas. The Senate provides equal representation, the house representation based on population. It was intended to prevent large population areas like New York from dictating to rural areas what they are going to do and it worked in this instance. The same with the filibuster. It was put in specifically to prevent a congress with a majority of one party from ramming through bad policy by allowing the minority party to block that bad policy from even coming up for a vote.

Our founding fathers got it right. It is too bad so many Americans are to uninformed to understand that and are willing to give up their rights and freedoms because some Socialist party member says that it is in their best interest to do so.

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B4it 1 year ago

Understood. Just trying to show the falicy of the arguments EJ was using to describe if Congress' vote coincides with some other outside group, then they must be caving to their pressure, rather than using common sense logic.

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waltspecht 1 year ago

Ever wonder why all those individuals that flunk background checks for valid reasons aren't presecuted? They are in violation of Federal Law. Ever wonder why those in possession of a firearm or ammunition of Federal law aren't prosecuted with the required Mandatory sentence? How about the law for repeat offenders being denied bail? There are many Federal laws on the books specifically targeting individuals either misusing, or in possession of firearms and ammunition that are not enforced. What good would more rules be if they are not utilized to accomplish their stated goal? Just look at all the individuals you have read about so far this year in the Albany Herald that violated these laws, and have never been charged, and had most of the firearms related charges traded off for pleas? No, until they use what they already have at their disposal, there is no need for more laws.

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