Breakdown: Everything about the Senate Gun Control Legislation.
Here is everything that you wanted to know - and ought to know - about the Senate gun control legislation, but probably didn’t. Bipartisan gun control legislation put forward by President Barack Obama and largely supported by the Democratic party failed in the Senate this past week, sparking a firestorm of public criticism, public support, presidential fury, and general shitstorminess. But what is going on? What did the bill say, and why and how did it fail in the midst of the seemingly unending spree of gun violence rocking the nation? That’s what I aim to answer.
What did the bill say?
On February 5th the first of the bipartisan gun control bills was unveiled in Congress, by Republican Congressmen Patrick Meehan and Scott Rigell (PA, VA, respectively) and Democratic Congressmen/women Carolyn Maloney and Elijah Cummings (NY, MD, respectively). The legislation would make firearm trafficking a federal crime, and give a hefty jail time to those who bought guns for those prohibited from buying them. Soon after, a full package of gun control measures was unveiled. In total, it included:
- Requiring background checks for online sales and sales at gun shows
- Substitute for background check bill that increases enforcement and reporting on mentally ill people.
- Renew and strengthen a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
- Limit magazine sizes to ten rounds.
- Make “straw purchasing” (buying a gun for someone prohibited from doing so) and trafficking a federal crime.
- Reauthorize and improve mental health programs.
- Impose penalties on states for releasing gun ownership data.
- State reciprocity for the carrying of concealed firearms.
- Allow only a judge to deem veterans mentally incompetent to own a gun.
This was the gun control legislation on the table. To me, it seemed logical and downright obvious. In fact, I was shocked some things like background checks for those attempting to buy a weapon designed to take human life did not exist in the first place.
Many of these measures were introduced jointly by Republicans and Democrats, as number five was. Out of all of these measures, of which background checks were arguably the most important, only six and seven were passed by the senate. Something as seemingly obvious as background checks was rejected, as was banning high capacity magazines and assault weapons. We are left only with improving mental health programs and the penalizing of states for releasing information on those who own guns. Nothing immediate or concrete is happening; the most vital measures all failed. On top of everything, six and seven will not be going into effect. They were attached to the bill at large, and since the bill at large did not pass, no new gun control legislation is going into effect. After Newton, after Aurora, after MIT - nothing.
Just WHY did these measures fail?
That is the million dollar question. In short, the bill did not receive enough votes. It needed more than 60 Senators’ support to avoid a filibuster; of the 55 Democrats and 45 Republican Senators, 52 Democrats supported the bill and only 4 Republicans. As is obvious, the gun control legislation received virtually no Republican support. President Obama, in a statement yesterday, accused Republican senators of falling prey to political pressure by the NRA instead of doing what was right. He went as far as accusing the NRA and Senators of willfully misleading the American public as to what the effects of the gun contra legislation would be. The NRA - National RIfle Association - put powerful pressure on the government to not increase gun control. According to the New York Times, they spent half a million dollars on Wednesday alone on advertisements criticizing the gun control legislation.
The senators who voted against the bill, of course dispute the President’s claims. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, like others, claims he followed his principles and his support of the Second Amendment - the right to bear arms. Republican Senator Jon Coryn of Texas claims he voted as his constituents would and not because of any NRA pressure. Polls do show, however, that 90% of Americans are in favor of the more stringent background checks. And the reasons given are confusing at best. Senator Flake of Arizona said it would require checks when a gun sale is posted on an office message board (false), while Senator Coburn of Oklahoma said it would raise taxes (what?). Senator Grassley of Iowa said that criminals would not submit to background checks, which apparently invalidates the idea of background checks entirely (?). As Jon Stewart so aptly pointed out, according to this logic it makes sense to not pass a law because hey, criminals are just going to break it anyway.
So what happens now?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used his power as majority leader to effectively “pause” the bill. The filibuster will not happen, which would take the bill off the table. Effectively, a “time out” was called, which gives those in support of the bill additional time to convert the critical number of senators necessary to approve the legislation. At any time a vote can be called again.
Now you now a bit about the gun control legislation that failed in the Senate. You know it’s main provisions, you know a bit about the excuses as to why it did not pass in the Senate. Do you think it should have, or should not? Now that you’re informed, the decisions is yours to make. I only encourage you to act on it once you make it.
Personal Opinion Alert: I support the gun control legislation. Why? Because gun violence is out of control. It is no longer the “other” in my life; it is a part of my life. Someone was murdered several days ago only a handful of blocks from my apartment. I have good friends at MIT, where a policeman was murdered only a few hours ago. Thank goodness my friends are okay, and I can only imagine the state that policeman’s family is in right now. This is real, and this is now. Gun violence will only skirt around us for so long. It is only a matter of time before someone we love gets hurt, and it becomes more real than we could ever imagine. Before that happens, I believe we need to take immediate, powerful action to curb it.
New York Times, “Drive for Gun Control Blocked in Senate”
New York Times, “New Gun Measures Considered by the Senate”
Christian Science Monitor, “Four Reasons the Gun Control Bill May be Kaput”