“Not this time,” we confidently said here a few months ago, following the slaughter in Newtown that incredulously included those helpless young innocents. We were quite convinced that there was enough of a collective sense of decency in the legislative branch in Washington to take a principled stand against the madness that has surrounded the gun ownership issue in this country. So, a horror of horrors it was recently, seeing the disgraceful conduct in the Senate that brought about defeat of background checks and other measures, causing majority leader Harry Reid to suspend deliberations on the gun control issue.
What a commingling of mood swings wash over us, resulting from what’s done or not done at the apex of power in these United States. A couple of outsize crazies create mayhem at the end of the Boston Marathon, and the marshalling of public and private resources nails them in a matter of days, bringing the nation to a comfortable place, somewhat at peace with itself and proud, after the initial revulsion. All of this, however, comes blended in, sharing calendar space, with folks wondering who are these characters in Washington who could so brazenly thwart the wishes of an overwhelming majority of citizens supportive of such no-brainer items as background checks for firearms purchases and other common-sense measures?
Who votes against so self-evidently useful a provision as looking into the profile of anyone seeking to own a gun? And why? Is it simply because the NRA shills for the gun industry issue an edict which the supposedly independent-minded exemplars of the lawmaker elite countermand on pain of utter destruction? Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, came up with what he no doubt thought was clever rationalization for his “no” vote: criminals do not now submit to background checks; they won’t submit to expanded checks down the road. So because of a perceived scenario in which “criminals” won’t be willing participants, all other would-be gun owners of questionable status have earned themselves a pass. Give us a break, senator, that’s just a crock. But probably good for another handsome campaign contribution, courtesy the gun lobby.
The United States Senate gets touted as the foremost deliberative body in the country, in the world, even. There are times, though, when a quizzical reaction to this hype is much in order. As with the good old filibuster routine – someone’s brainchild that, experience has largely shown over the years, should have been still-born. Debate on the gun control measures was a target for filibustering, but enough members apparently thought this was beyond-the-pale despicable to ensure clearing that hurdle. But almost as offensive as the filibuster move was agreement between the parties to designate the legislation as requiring 60 votes for passage. Such maneuvers, indicative of an embrace of gun-law reform that must be in many instances quite tepid, only serve to remind us that it wasn’t too long ago, until Newtown, that gun violence as a matter of national concern was fixed in thumbs-down position in Washington.
With the Senate treating us to what the president called “a shameful day in Washington,” we cannot but feel, anew, for the kin of Newtown victims who, even with last December’s hurt still raw, bravely joined the front lines, determined to make losers of the gun-rights loonies. Others, too, who had suffered personal loss in earlier episodes of gun carnage, showed up to be counted. They would be present to hear a U.S. senator pretty much dismiss them with a rap about emotion having no place in making policy. The gun-rights bullies have office holders in tow, evidently programmed to spout the same hard-line, insensitive rhetoric, in league with stuff out of the NRA playbook.
Those who have known the ravages of gun violence up close obviously have a true comrade-at-arms in Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor gives every indication of being committed to spare no effort in pursuit of sensible laws governing the availability of firearms. Bloomberg’s apparent readiness to reach into his deep pockets to whatever extent to neutralize the storm trooper tactics of the NRA and their ilk has to be reassuring to folks who, since Newtown, have been emboldened to crusade for sanity. Bloomberg has become arch enemy number one for the NRA. To which we say, it’s about time the good guys had some fat-wallet support on their side.
The NRA, for its part, hews to the well-worn script: Hit the bunkers, America. They’re coming to take away your guns! For the recently concluded first-round debacle in the Senate, the NRA’s ammunition included an ad imploring followers to listen to America’s police, instead of Obama and Bloomberg. Which immediately invites speculation as to which police departments or organizations are on record as favoring widespread availability of guns in any given community. The smart money says the position of “America’s police” on guns among the population isn’t quite as portrayed by the NRA to its adherents. For stuff like this, presumably, the NRA’s loose cannon leader Wayne LaPierre, wound up on some list recently as one of the most influential persons in America. Heaven help us.
Ultimately, though, what transpired in the Senate may have been just as well. It averted what probably would have been a more sickening scenario in the House. And it stiffened resolve, hopefully, that gun-loving maniacs must not have the last word.