Background Checks for the Shameful 46

The Senate’s astonishing pusillanimity this past Wednesday, April 17, 2013, could serve as the core of an argument to bring enlightened monarchy as the preferred form of American government. By a vote of 54 yes and 46 no, the 46 Noes of the Senate rejected the tiniest, most conservative, least offensive possible measure for sanity and safety in favor of prostrating themselves before the National Rifle Association as the only god to whom their unshakable obeisance is due. Joined by four Democrats who also had their spines removed prior to the vote, 42 Republicans chose to spit in the faces of the 89% of Americans who favor universal background checks prior to gun purchases, and instead to offer a blood sacrifice in the form of a No vote to their new god. This Vengeance-is-Mine NRA god does frighten them with Calvinist retribution and ayatollah fatwas should they waver, and so perhaps we should, in good conscience, look upon them with almost as much charitable pity as with revulsion as they bow and scrape. But while we may pity them, and are unquestionably revolted by them for their No votes, Democratic Senator Harry Reid should have subjected them to the consequences of their threatened filibuster: he should have made them come to the well of the Senate and actually filibuster the proposed law, forcing them to expose their craven and spurious arguments until each dropped, exhausted, drained of their venal, self-congratulating excuses and their squalid sophistries. For the Yes voters, it was an opportunity to challenge the filibuster-loving Republican hostage takers, and yet again, it was an opportunity lost.

One might think that that 89% of Americans who support background checks, and whom the Shameful 46 presume to represent, might be their constituency. Representing that great majority would be reasonable, political, even moral. It was what they were in fact elected to do. Instead they chose their new god and the other 11%, who are presumably the felons and mentally disturbed that the law was designed to prohibit from having guns in the first place. In effect, the Shameful 46 chose to protect the criminals and advocate, in this one single instance, for what they consider the absolute, unconstrainable Constitutional right—that is to say, the gun right, the only right that matters—of the mentally disturbed. Of course the second amendment is no more absolute than the first amendment. Just as we cannot commit libel or perjury or yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre, we already have background checks for gun store sales; guns cannot be carried on school grounds, in courtrooms, in prisons, or (tellingly) in the visitor galleries of congress; most states prohibit openly wearing guns; and so far ownership of howitzers is not permitted. So the absolutism argument, namely that any constraint at all on the second amendment would be unconstitutional, is simply wrong on its face.

Perhaps instead of decrying the appalling cowardice of the 46, we should be praising the courage of the 54. It is part of the sad commentary on American gun politics that their votes were, in many cases, considered real acts of courage. But can that really be so if 89% of us already believe in universal background checks? Was it that tough a vote to say “yes” both to the people and to simple common sense and “no” to the new god? Was it that tough to say that we should do something that preserves the second amendment while maybe, just possibly, making society a tiny bit safer to boot? Was it that tough to cast a vote FOR twenty first-graders and six of their teachers and their families? Aren’t those grieving parents, in some attenuated way, also US? The relatively small amount of real courage that it took to vote yes on Wednesday only accentuates the profound cowardice of those who voted no. From April 17, 2013 forward, anyone victimized by gun violence that can be traced to a gun sold without a background check at a gun show to a convicted felon or an adjudicated mentally disturbed individual can blame not only the perpetrator, but also his forty-six co-conspirators in the U. S. Senate.

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