You watch that C-SPAN feed this week? Shit got crazy up on Capitol Hill…
House Democrats led a sit-in at the Capitol building beginning Wednesday at 11:30 am and running for 25 straight hours. Democratic Senators came and joined in support, Elizabeth Warren brought Dunkin. Their intention was to force the House of Representatives to bring forth a bill on gun legislation for a vote, presumably one of the four (or Collins’ fifth option) that was voted down in the Senate on Monday. Those four measures, two proposed by Republicans and two proposed by Democrats dealt with particular pieces of the gun control debate, from closing background check loopholes, to the not-as-simple-as-they-appear “no fly, no buy” measures that coordinate with the nation’s various no fly and terror watch lists. All four were rejected along nearly perfect party lines despite a CNN poll this week that says a large percentage of Americans are in favor of some “common sense” gun measures: 90% supported universal background checks (I know, most places make you do some kind of check, we’ll get back to that in a moment), 87% supporting measures that would prevent felons and those who are mentally ill from getting a gun, and 85% supporting a “no fly, no buy” initiative. Yet even in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando or the many others so recent, we remain stubbornly entrenched in our views, with so little room for movement between the two sides.
In the wake of this type of terrible event, as the phenomenon becomes frighteningly common here in the United States, many of us scramble for answers, with questions and debates about where blame should lie and what solutions might exist towards prevention of future such tragedies. Here in the United States, of course, the discussions surrounding gun violence, gun ownership rights, and what impact legal restrictions can and will have are nothing new. The right to bear arms as outlined in the Second Amendment to our Constitution is passionately protected by a large portion of our citizenry, while the intention and language of said Amendment is the subject of its own debate within the context of modern weaponry. What exactly is the definition of “a well regulated militia” and what bearing does that phrase have on the Amendment as a whole? Many would say that the principle at the center of the Amendment and the right itself is defense against tyranny, believing that an armed citizenry cannot and will not be overtaken by tyrannical rule. For many it also represents a spirit of personal independence and self-reliance, a drive to protect what is yours. All of these are noble principles advocated by the pro-gun crowd. That self-reliance bumps up against societal safety when taken to a particular extreme, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.
The point is that this is an important dialogue worthy of a sophisticated and evolved citizenry, debating with our fellow Americans deep social issues of personal responsibility, freedom and prevention of tyranny, and how we perpetuate notions of violence. And while that dialogue does take place in smaller pockets, on a large scale the two sides simply retreat to familiar and fervently defended stances with no movement made toward compromise. As I mentioned, three of Monday’s Senate votes failed along perfect 53-47 party lines, while the bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy aimed at closing the “gun show loophole” gained an additional 3 votes from Senate Republicans. In my opinion, each side of this debate has valid criticisms which we should accept and use as a basis for compromise. On the political right, there are two great notions which comprise much of the argument. 1. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and 2. None of the measures proposed thus far would have had a specific impact on any of the recent tragedies (Omar Mateen was not on the no fly list, for instance). The first is an age-old cliché that argues for personal responsibility but I think understates the deadly nature of firearms. Guns have one solitary purpose, to kill, and when we passively move past that we skew the debate. I think perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people”.
The second point, that the proposed legislations don’t actually address issues that relate to any recent tragedy, is, I think, the more pressing one for the present dialogue. Many critics argue that making background checks truly universal, including trade shows and private sales, is redundant given that, they claim, most places perform a background check anyway. The “no fly, no buy” and related measures rely heavily on several different secret government lists, opening a litany of civil right issues while contributing little in the way of practical results. And even an assault weapons ban (which I’ll get to in a moment) wouldn’t have affected the 2015 Louisiana movie theatre shooting, Dylann Roof’s shooting in Charleston, 2012’s Wisconsin temple shooting, or the 2011 Arizona shooting involving Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, all of which were perpetrated using only handguns.