The U.S. Senate's stunning defeat Wednesday of a measure to expand background checks for purchases of all guns, not just the 60 percent sold by licensed gun stores, is an unusually pathetic symbol of the bought and cowardly members of the Senate who fear the gun lobby and the NRA's campaign clout more than they care for public safety.
It also is a memorably graphic insult against the express wishes of nearly 90 percent of Americans who, polls confirm, believe that every gun purchase should require a background check to help stem the sewer of gun sales that arm criminals and the mentally deranged, that breed crime and mass murder, and that account for many of the nation's 98,000 annual gun deaths.
The 46 senators, nearly all Republicans, who blocked this bill included Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, and Alabama Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby. They and their misguided colleagues all condoned the lies that the gun lobby and its Senate lackeys said about the bill.
The truth is that the bill simply would have closed the background-check loophole that allows 40 percent of the nation's gun sales to be casually sold, without any regulation, through personal and online ads, or out of car trunks at public gun shows or in alleys and elsewhere.
Our own senators, however, indulged and condoned claims that the measure would curb Second Amendment rights, when that is not true. They echoed the lie that universal background checks would allow establishment of national gun registry; or that it would allow the federal government the means to take away Americans' guns. It would do neither. In fact, the bill expressly banned a gun registry. And the U.S. Supreme Court already has held that gun ownership, while properly subject to reasonable regulation, is a personal right under the Second Amendment that cannot arbitrarily be denied.
Yet the 46 senators who voted against the measure, preventing the majority of senators from achieving the 60 votes needed to squelch a filibuster, helped shift the focus from gun safety in the wake of more mass murders, to gun rights that were never contested. They argued that the law wouldn't stop crime, when in fact no law actually stops crime: It just creates a punishable offense that can be investigated and prosecuted, and with enforcement, become a deterrent to crime.
These senators, our own senators, just caved before the NRA's amalgamated gun lobby when they should have stood up in behalf of a measure that would help take guns out of the hands of robbers and gangbangers. They failed their duty to help curb gun-runners who take guns purchased under the loophole in easy-sales states into states and cities that do require checks for all gun purchases, or who take them across the southern border to trade with Mexican drug cartels.
This city's esteemed favorite son, Sen. Corker, joined in the chorus of hollow excuses and pretended good intentions. "Like most Americans," he intoned, "I want to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and dangerous mentally ill people" "Unfortunately," he wrongly claimed, the provision to require universal background checks "overly burdens a law abiding citizen's ability to exercise his or her Second Amendment rights and creates uncertainty about what is and is not a criminal offense when it comes to gun ownership."
What baloney. That's merely the sort of political double-speak that the anti-background-check cohorts use to camouflage their political cowardice of the gun lobby -- a lobby than includes powerful gun manufacturers' support of the NRA for the sole purpose of sustaining this nation's enormous volume of gun sales.
As it turns out, the Senate's novel agreement last week to allow debate on the amendment to proceed was apparently a contrived piece of political theater. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre of 26 children and teachers, Republicans who knew they intended to oppose the measure decided to allow the amendment to come to the floor of the Senate for show, only to crush the hope of reform. Their earlier pretense of sympathy to the families of slaughtered innocents is a cruel as it gets.
This nation hasn't passed a meaningful reform of gun laws for 20 years, all because our representatives let a tiny minority of NRA extremists dictate to them. Until Americans convince our senators and congressmen this will lead to their defeat, they aren't likely to change their minds, or to listen closely to their conscience.