The sad fact is that the NRA rules, not Congress, when guns are the issue. No lobby in America is more powerful.
The NRA mobilized its four million members to flood the Senate with phone calls, emails and letters. It spent $500,000 in advertising on the day of the Senate vote. It dispensed $800,000 in campaign contributions (bribes) to members of Congress.
The Senate quickly forgot the Connecticut Sandy Hook massacre in December: 20 kids and five educators slaughtered by a gunman with an assault weapon.
So it naturally defeated nine recent proposals to restore sanity to gun laws. It rejected bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. It rejected efforts to expand background checks for gun purchasers.
All failed to get the 60 votes needed in the bipartisan agreement before the voting. And that’s the root of the problem. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada talks a good game, lamenting defeat of measures “that 90 percent of Americans agree on.” But he is the villain behind Senate rejection. He refuses to abandon the filibuster. A majority should rule in a democracy, not a supermajority.
Andrew Cohen of the Brennan Center for Justice deplores “the widespread failure of the media to describe the filibuster requirement for a supermajority vote for any contentious issue.” Cohen calls the filibuster what it is: a self-inflicted wound.
There are plenty of other villains behind Senate failure. Gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Remington make big money and donate heavily to the NRA.
Another: the Internet provides easy access for criminals to get guns. The New York Times reported: “One widely popular Website contains tens of thousands of private postings of gun sales.”
Another villain is the influential Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who expressed an unfounded fear that “stricter background checks would create a national gun registry.”
The Supreme Court is hardly blameless. In its 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, it held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense in the home. It affirmed a decision by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruling unconstitutional a D.C. law requiring rifles and shotguns to be unloaded and disassembled — or restrained by a trigger lock.
In dissent, Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Souter and Breyer, called the majority judgment “strained and unpersuasive” in overturning “longstanding precedent.”
Breyer said the court “bestowed a dramatic upheaval in the law.” He pointed out that the Founders’ reference to colonial militia in the Second Amendment made it clear they were referring to today’s equivalent of national guards.
After the Senate crushed all efforts at gun control, survivors of killings at Virginia Tech and mass shootings in Arizona shouted from the Senate gallery: “Shame on you.” An angry President Obama echoed those sentiments by calling the vote a “shameful day for Washington.”
The terrible fact is that so many Americans love, cherish and possess guns. One out of five American adults owns guns — about 50 million people. The national gun culture is deeply engrained: 270 Americans are shot every day.
No wonder the United States refuses to join civilized nations that curb deadly use of firearms. America is a land of violence.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.