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Yesterday, the best hope for any real progress in protecting Americans from gun violence was shot down.
The Senate voted on an expansion of the background check system for those seeking to buy guns. It’s important to note that this bill was a watered-down version of previously proposed bills on the expansion of background checks. The bill called for background checks to be performed at gun shows and prior to Internet sales. Because the bill expressly exempted background checks from being required for sales from gun owners to relatives and friends, it fell far short of the “universal background check” threshold. The bill was expressly written in such a way both to alleviate fears of too much government incursion in private sales, and as an attempt to make it more palatable to senators who fear the lobbying and economic power of the NRA. It’s also important to note that the bill contained a very specific provision AGAINST the creation of a national gun registry. Because some paranoid people think that the US government actually wants to keep lists of these people in an effort to confiscate their guns, efforts were made to assuage even those most ardent opposers. To think the government a. has their shit together enough to accomplish such a mass undertaking, and b. has the time and money to do so, reveals a tremendous faith in our system. (These are some of the same people who believe the moon landing was a hoax. Which is it: powerful, Orwellian overreach, or staggering ineptitude? Make up your mind.)
I get it, though. There’s a fear that the government lies. Well, the NRA has demonstrably lied on a huge scale in order to push its pro-guns for everyone, everywhere agenda. The NRA is financed by gun manufacturers. Therefore, the NRA does the bidding of the gun manufacturers and represents their desires above those of actual NRA members. Of course gun manufacturers want as few restrictions as possible on gun sales. Gun sales are how they make their money. It’s not difficult to connect the dots. In fact, it’s a much easier connection than those reached by conspiracy theorists. Gun manufacturers have a vested interest in ginning up fear among the populace by distorting the facts, and telling people that “the government is going to take your guns away”, which translates into “Better get them while their hot–you never know when they’ll be gone for good!” This also leads to the idea that people need as much protection as possible against a “tyrannical” government comprised of SWAT teams and Special Forces soldiers who will kick down their doors in an effort to forcefully, physically “steal” their Cobstitutionally-protected firearms. Scary image, right? That’s why fear mongering is effective. And, in this case, it’s particularly potent because it preys on people who are already especially vulnerable to this type of delusional mindset. Never mind the fact that several Supreme Court cases as well as the Constitution itself is on the side of gun owners. These people who possess deadly weapons are defenseless against the Leviathan, didn’t you know? In their minds, their guns are the only things standing between them and such ridiculous and dangerous notions as state-run concentration camp style FEMA camps used to imprison citizens. What do you bet these people don’t even know that there are countries like Russia and North Korea who, right now, send political prisoners to ACTUAL work/slave camps?
Anyway, efforts were made to try to convince these people that their worst fears would never be realized. The government actually catered to THEM.
While the compromise bill was not as far-reaching as many would have liked, it was hailed as a historic and positive step. Its bipartisan nature was touted. It was drafted by Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, two conservative senators who represent areas densely populated by gun owners. It was often mentioned how credibility was gained by the fact that both senators had “A” ratings from the NRA.
In a myriad of polls, at least 90% of the American people supported expanded background checks. Some polls said 91%. More than 80% of Americans supported universal background checks.
Even NRA head and soulless shell of a person Wayne LaPierre called for universal background checks in a widely-circulated video showing him testifying before Congress in 1999 on behalf of the NRA and its powerful lobbyists.
It was thought that in the wake of the Sandy Hook School massacre and the accumulated horror of all the mass shootings and smaller scale, but ubiquitous, gun violence, that it was finally possible to attempt to make the country just a little safer. As both Biden and Obama have said, if the life of one child, one person, or a hundred, or a thousand, is saved by keeping guns out of the hands of more convicted felons, domestic abusers, and those with severe mental illnesses, don’t we have an obligation to try?
As the families and friends of those who died and suffered grievous injuries in shootings looked on from the Senate gallery (at the very senators they had summoned the strength to share their stories with in an effort to prevent others from going through the same unimaginable pain in the future), the Senate killed the bill. The vote was 54-46, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joining the 46 and voting no once it became clear the bill wouldn’t pass in order to be able to bring it up for another vote in the future. Two of the women directly affected by gun violence shouted “shame on you” to those senators who voted no, from the Senate gallery. Former Representative Gabby Giffords, herself a famous example of gun violence, echoed this statement in an op-ed for “The New York Times” published today. As she explained how she has been robbed of the ability to speak easily since being shot in the head in Tucson in January 2011, she expressed being “furious” at the outcome of the vote. She is not only a former Congresswoman, a very visible victim of gun violence, and still, a gun owner, but she also co-founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a PAC that aims to counter the incredible lobbying power of the NRA, with her former astronaut husband, Mark Kelly.
President Obama was very angry at a press conference he gave less than an hour after the Senate vote. He said that while “90 percent of Democrats voted for the bill, 90 percent of Republicans voted against it”. Obama explicitly called the NRA out on its lies to people.
The NRA erroneously claimed that a universal gun registry was to be created, and that it would be used to punish lawful gun owners. The NRA LIED ON PURPOSE–and, as Obama said, it worked. Unfortunately, enough of a “vocal minority” called their senators, and sufficiently scared them into voting against the bill. Members of Congress are so worried about being primaried in their next elections that they don’t represent the majority of people. As Obama resignedly asked, who are they representing?
Senior Senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal called yesterday the “saddest day of [his] public life”. He has been a tireless advocate for gun control legislation since the Sandy Hook massacre rocked his state in December. Yesterday was especially disappointing for millions of Americans, myself included. There are eight more gun control-related bills that are going to the Senate floor in the coming days. They are not expected to pass. As one resolute father of a six-year-old boy who was brutally murdered by gun violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School said, this is just the beginning. They knew it would be a long road, and they (all those related to victims of gun violence) aren’t going anywhere because they have no choice.
It’s difficult to be optimistic, but there are no other options but to give up. Progress often takes time. I’m hoping at least some of these senators are voted out next election cycle, and replaced by more progressive counterparts. Let them feel the power of votes firsthand.