BETWEEN THE LINES: What we have in Congress — to paraphrase the iconic line from “Cool Hand Luke” — is a failure to legislate. That was quite evident last week after the Senate failed to expand existing gun laws without infringing on the Second Amendment. On top of everything else, because of undue filibustering rules, a 45 percent minority — too afraid to challenge the all-too potent National Rifle Association — defeated the will of the majority.
The American people — pardon the phrase — should be up in arms over legislation that would have strengthened and expanded background checks for gun sales.
With the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre still fresh in our minds, it was disgraceful, albeit not shocking, that nearly four dozen senators did nothing to assuage the painful memories of victims’ families or the overwhelming support of the American public in a clear cut triumph for the National Rifle Association.
The legislation would have extended background checks for buyers at gun shows and online purchases. The 54-46 tally was six votes short needed to break a filibuster. Under the current law, although people who want to obtain a gun need to have a background check for some purchases, such as from a licensed dealer, it is not necessary for them to go through such a process for other types of sales.
While the senators who voted against the compromise proposal were mostly Republicans, a handful of Democrats joined their gun-loving GOP colleagues. Nonetheless, one senator blatantly demonstrated his commitment to special interests. Montana Democrat Max Baucus, whose constituents strongly support background checks for gun purchases, sides with the opposition.
One has to wonder if even a massacre in their own backyards would coerce these NRA-coddled legislators to change their minds.
The NRA frequently argues that existing gun laws need to be better enforced, though it continuously lobbies for amendments and riders to legislation that makes it increasingly difficult for federal agencies to carry out their policing tasks. And, still, the NRA refuses to acknowledge thousands of gun owners, who clearly understand the need to balance public safety with their rights, champion common sense gun reform.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, almost every American, especially our legislators, was more than willing to accept new restrictions in order to preserve our freedom and safety. So, why does it seem impossible to establish new restrictions on guns — without violating even the rash interpretations of the Second Amendment — that would further protect our well-being?
Despite the clamor for stricter gun control in the aftermath of the Newtown school shoot in December, support has steadily weakened. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll showed that 49 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, down from 58 percent in January. In that survey, 38 percent said they want the laws to remain the same and 10 percent want them eased.
The NRA and misguided Second Amendment proponents should ponder what Conservative columnist George Will wrote in 1991: “Whatever right the Second Amendment protects is not as important as it was 200 years ago… The government should deconstitutionalize the subject by repealing the embarrassing Amendment.”
It’s long past the time when politicians, elected to serve the people who voted them into office, react to a senseless tragedy by ignoring their electorate and supporting the demands of special interests. Numerous polls in recent months have demonstrated that 90 percent of the nation support expanded background checks. But, obviously some of our legislators are not among them.
While the precise language of the legislation may have been flawed, most of the “No” votes were more than likely due to politicians who are commonly influenced by, or fearful of, the NRA. Sadly, only in the hallowed halls of Congress is the distortion of democracy repeatedly demonstrated as minority rules, and the conscience of the nation seems to have little significance.
By their April 17 vote, our gutless elected officials proved they are more indebted to the NRA than they are to their constituencies and the American people. For the good of the country, NRA-influenced legislators need to take one for the nation and bite the bullet — if they hope to protect it.
Gun control may be out of the spotlight, especially with the media riveted to the post-Boston Marathon bomb investigation. Even so, the 45 senators who capitulated to the will of the NRA, as they trampled on the graves of the victims of the Newtown massacre, deserve to be serenaded with TV journalist Arnold Diaz’s investigative series refrain, “Shame, shame, shame on you!”
According to the Huffington Post, since the Newtown, CT, shootings, there have been more than 2,200 gun-related deaths across the nation. Long after the taming of the Wild West, gun control remains a sticky issue in America. However, that problem will never be suitably resolved as long as spineless elected officials refuse to do anything to enact stricter gun laws.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.
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