Other Voices: Gun debate far from over

April 19, 2013 

He was talking about the people who planted the two bombs that destroyed the pure joy of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing three, injuring dozens, jarring the national consciousness.

But the president could just as easily have been talking about the cowards in the U.S. Senate who the day before killed what was at most a minimalist attempt to bring some level of sanity to the nation's gun debate.

Had the traditional rules of parliamentary procedure been in place, the Senate actually would have passed a bill to expand gun background checks to include online sales and gun shows. The proposal, among the weakest of possible gun control proposals, was supported by a clear majority, 54-46. But because Senate leaders had to agree to a 60-vote threshold just to get Republicans to allow the measure to come to the floor, it failed.

Here's the most important element of that vote: It didn't fail after a long debate. It didn't fail on its merits. It failed because Republicans -- most of them anyway -- were more interested in lying about the bill than passing sound public policy. Here's Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, for instance, talking about his no vote on Fox News:

"It potentially could lead to a gun registry."

That, to borrow one of Mr. Obama's words from his angry Wednesday speech, is just a lie.

There is nothing in the background check bill that would, potentially or otherwise, create a gun registry. There is nothing in the bill that would do anything to diminish Second Amendment rights to "keep and bear arms."

There is nothing in the bill that is worth a no vote unless you are a fully owned subsidiary of the National Rifle Association.

Mr. Blunt is. He even voted against allowing the gun control legislation to be debated.

So are most of the other Republicans who voted against the bill and the four Democrats who joined them. Three of the four are up for re-election next year.

They're cowards. All of them.

Their no votes are not the biggest problem. The fact that they won't debate the issue on its merits and invent straw men to obfuscate their true intentions is the bigger issue. This is what is wrong with the Senate, what's wrong with Congress, what's wrong with America. It's bigger than guns, or immigration, or debt ceilings. We have become so afraid to call a lie, a lie (and we include ourselves in that), that "spin" has become an accepted part of the political process.

Enough is enough.

The Greek philosopher Plato told us that, "The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men."

In other words, we deserve the Congress we're stuck with.

For too long, the great American middle has ceded the playing field. It's time to take it back.

It's time to rally behind Democrats like Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Republicans like Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who took courageous votes on the background check legislation, standing with the 91 percent of Americans who believe it's reasonable to check gun buyers for felony or mental health backgrounds that might disqualify them from ownership.

It's time to rally behind grass-roots, bipartisan movements like Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns and let politicians in 2014 and 2016 know that their cowardice will no longer be accepted.

As former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wrote in the New York Times on Thursday, the nation should "not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done."

What those senators did was small. It was stunted. It destroyed the hope of victims of Newtown and Aurora that our broken Congress can ever break out of its dysfunction and serve a needy nation.

The challenge now, for those angry at the Senate, for those, like Ms. Giffords, "furious" that a faction of gun extremists can block the simplest legislation intended only to keep guns from felons and the mentally ill, for those angry that the majority of Americans feel shut out of the political process, is to build something.

Build hope. Build momentum. Build a future in which congressional cowards fear your power more than the gun lobby's.

Wednesday's vote wasn't the end. It was the beginning. It was a reset of the national debate.

No more lying. No more kowtowing to a narrow sect of angry primary voters and the deep-pocketed special interests who stir them up for their own purposes.

It's time for a new beginning, and Mr. Obama has to lead us there. He'll need moms. He'll need sons and daughters. He'll need politicians unafraid of the next election.

"We'll pick ourselves up," the president told Bostonians on Thursday.

"We'll keep going. We'll finish the race."

-- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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