Senate Not Sure 90 Percent Public Support Good Enough Reason For Easiest Gun Control Measure
Following the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, the Senate is poised to spring into inaction on a pair of gun safety laws recently passed by the House. The measures, aimed at making sure all firearms sales are subject to background checks, are just about the mildest possible step toward strengthening gun control, but they're unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate because that's just how extreme Republicans are about guns.
Still, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), for whom the Sandy Hook massacre was a defining moment, says he thinks "universal background checks" could pass:
We're going to sit down with Democratic leadership this week and talk about the path forward. [...] I think we've got two weeks of recess in which I think there'll be a lot of conversations, across the aisle, about the path forward on background checks.
You'd certainly think so. Polling consistently shows the vast majority of Americans (between 83 and 90 percent, depending on the poll) support background checks for all gun sales; and for that matter, the idea has very high support among gun owners and even members of the National Rifle Association. Those numbers just aren't reflected among members of the House and Senate, though, because with few exceptions, it's virtually impossible for a Republican who supports even the smallest curbs on guns to win a primary.
The solution is to stop electing Republicans, but we're stuck with the bunch we currently have for a while.
Murphy told NBC News he thinks the contrast between the high support for background checks and the inaction resulting from the need to pass bills with a supermajority just might be the lever for getting rid of the filibuster.
"If a measure that has 90 percent to 95 percent public support can't pass the Senate just because of our rules — not because it doesn't get the majority of support in the Senate — then something's really wrong here," Murphy said. "Democracy dies when things that have the majority of support in Congress, the support of the president and 90 percent public support can't become a law."
The last major effort to pass a strengthened background check law, the 2013 bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), received a majority of votes in the Senate, but not the 60 it needed to actually move forward, which is part of why we're here again. Incredibly, now neither Manchin nor Toomey seem likely to support the bills passed by the House, which cover a wider range of gun sales and transfers (Manchin-Toomey only expanded background checks to cover private sales at gun shows and internet sales).
In a carefully parsed utterance, Toomey said, "I still support background checks on commercial sales. [...] We're having preliminary conversations and I hope we can get something across the goal line. But, you know, it's very difficult." Yeah, "commercial sales" isn't all sales.
Manchin also opposes the House bills because they would cover private sales and transfers between family members, with an exemption for some gifts from one family member to another.
"I come from a gun culture," Manchin told reporters. "Commercial transactions should be background checked. Commercial — you don't know a person. If I know a person, no."
So that's a useful quote, if only to nail down 2021's weasel words for inaction on guns.
And then there are the loonies, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Nobody even likes him in Texas), who may have intended to make a brilliant point about how terrible Democrats are, but underlined just how common massacres have become. After mentioning the mass murders in Atlanta and Boulder, Cruz listed a number of mass shootings just in Texas, which you might think would be an argument in favor of stopping the slaughter.
But instead, he followed that litany of death by complaining that "Every time there's a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders." You know, all these mass killings, every time.
Cruz promised he and Sen. Chuck Grassley would reintroduce a bill they like that would "target the bad guys, the felons, the fugitives, those with mental disease" and keep them from buying guns, with super tough penalties it they did. However, that bill would only provide even smaller, incremental improvements to the existing background check system. Its one redeeming feature is a provision criminalizing straw purchases of firearms, which, sure, let's do that.
But as long as there's a filibuster, and for that matter, a Congress terrified of the NRA, we may never get stronger background checks, to say nothing of passing a renewed assault weapons ban, as Joe Biden's calling for, or more serious safety measures like gun licensing.
Still we have to hope Chris Murphy's optimism gets us somewhere. Call your senators and tell them to pass the House background check bills — If the Senate can't take that very minimal step, we'll at least have a stronger case for fixing that undemocratic body.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.