When former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the families of the Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims bravely make public appearances on behalf of expanding background checks for gun purchases, they engender in almost all of us a feeling of sympathy and spirit of good will. However, that has not been enough to get the U.S. Senate to pass even the most modest expansion of background checks.
The proposed legislation brought forward by Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) would have closed the glaring loopholes on gun purchases being made at gun shows and over the Internet where there are few if any background checks.
Although the 54-46 vote represented a majority, it fell short of the 60 votes needed to make it filibuster-proof. Five Democrats opposed the bipartisan proposal while only four Republicans supported it.
The Senate’s failure to debate and vote on even the most innocuous of gun control legislation means the more controversial proposals like banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and reducing the allowable number of high-capacity ammunition clips someone can load into a weapon have no chances of gaining traction.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released in April, over 90 percent of Americans want a universal background check on gun purchases. Furthermore, 74 percent of National Rifle Association members and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners support requiring criminal background checks on anyone who is purchasing a gun, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz in a survey taken several months before the Newtown, CT, school shootings.
The only way the Senate could defy the will of a 90 percent tide is if the legislative body is serving another master (a special interest group like the NRA) and if these elected officials feel there are no political consequences for their actions. For example, a GOP senator from a solidly red state may feel his only concern is a primary challenge from the right.
It is quite apparent by now that to get anywhere with gun legislation, it is necessary to couch the argument in terms of national defense and homeland security. Americans often have an irrational reaction to anything that smacks of government. President Dwight Eisenhower realized this and in the 1950s championed his efforts to build a national highway system as the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. He explained that the Interstate Highway System was necessary to transport military equipment and personnel quickly to help fight the Cold War and combat the threat of Soviet communism. The results of the elaborate interconnected system of roads were to make driving more convenient and enjoyable, to enable the middle class to stretch out into the now teeming suburbs, to facilitate farmers getting their produce to market, and to create a huge economic boom and expansion that made the U.S. an economic superpower. But had Eisenhower promoted his plan in economic or social terms, the system may never have been built because of the strong resistance to even a hint of government involvement.
Having sympathetic victims of crime come forward to support background checks is not enough to pass much needed gun reform. Neither is having the administration strategize over whether to play an outside or inside political game. The only thing that will work is to strictly and bluntly put this in terms of national defense, homeland security and law enforcement.
Do we really want the next potential terrorist to just stroll into a gun show and walk out with the weapons of his choice, without any kind of background check whatsoever? Without even making sure he’s a citizen with a right to buy a weapon in the first place?
Do we really want terrorists and other criminals to have unfettered access to unlimited ammunition over the Internet, without having their purchases monitored in any way? The First and Second Amendments were written long before the Internet came along. There are times when we must update our rules and regulations to keep pace with advancing technology.
Do we really want drug gangs to be able to outgun our brave policemen, or do we want to try to limit what these drug-peddling thugs have access to? We must turn law enforcement loose to crack the whip and maintain order on our streets, but we must also help them by making it less convenient for convicted felons and the mentally unhinged to procure weapons.
Do we really want to continue to make it easy for those who seek to emulate the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing to have the option of showing up with military-styled assault weapons, giving them the capacity to wreak even more havoc than was done?
Do we really want international students, who often help our economy by paying high tuitions to attend our elite schools and often remain here to work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields where there is a labor shortage, to suddenly feel too afraid to come here because we don’t have the common sense or the will to protect our homeland from senseless violence?
Do we really want foreign tourists to keep their precious dollars at home or take their money to another country because we choose to distribute firearms like candy bars at Halloween and can’t keep our streets safe?
Do we really want the International Olympic Committee and other sports organizations to start bypassing U.S. cities as possible selection sites because we fail the public safety test?
Do we really want to take the Second Amendment so literally that we turn it into a suicide pact? Only children take things literally. Adults of normal and above-normal intelligence should have the maturity and wisdom to see shadings and nuances.
The soft approach of gentle persuasion has failed to sway enough intransigent members of the Senate. And U. S. House members, often representing gerrymandered districts, are even more difficult to convince. The only viable option remaining is to present the issue in the starkest concerns about security. Then, if these elected officials will still not bend and approve the most modest and measured of gun legislation, the world will have the duty to ask with righteous indignation, what manner of men are the American people?