The best and the brightest

The NRA receives much of the blame for the Senate’s failure to pass moderate gun control measures. They ought not to.

by Matthew Hoy

Last Wednesday, members of the Senate voted down the most com­prehensive gun control measures proposed in decades, ignoring the public outcry for stricter background checks and bowing to an overvalued gun lobby instead.

Forty-one Republicans and five Demo­crats opposed the measure that would have expanded background checks to include sales on the Internet and at gun shows, leaving gun control advocates six votes shy of the 60 required to pass the legislation.

In the aftermath of the vote, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is a Republican, took to social media to gloat about his filibuster victory, posting a meme to his Facebook page where he scolded gun control advocates like children.

This would be disgusting in general — it usually reflects poorly on our country when our lawmakers behave like 7-year-olds — but it is especially heinous consid­ering that this legislation was proposed in response to the mass shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook El­ementary School in December 2012.

There are legitimate concerns about the effectiveness of universal background checks and magazine capacity regula­tions, but those concerns are drowned out by reactionary voices that seem to believe that they and anyone else who advocates for gun rights constitute a well-regulated militia.

Because of these voices, we cannot have a serious discussion about moder­ate, unobtrusive control and instead are reduced to perpetual bickering about an issue that is responsible for tens of thou­sands of deaths every year.

Those most vehemently opposed to gun control of any sort are quick to in­voke the Second Amendment, stretching a valid concern about the encroachment of rights into an absurdist portrait of hon­est debate.

Their position often employs the slip­pery slope, arguing that any infringement of human rights, however minor, can lead to greater transgressions and that estab­lishing an arbitrary limit on rights is the same as turning those rights into privileg­es that can be revoked on a whim by any government that wishes to do so.

The two parties then typically debate what the original intent of the Second Amendment was, applying that to the changes in modern technology and be­coming bogged down in a sea of subjec­tivity.

It is understandable why this debate is so messy. There is no easy answer to what the right of the people to keep and bear arms does and does not cover.

Every rational person agrees that civil­ians should not own tanks or nuclear de­vices.

Very few Americans oppose the right of people owning any guns. It is establish­ing the point at which a weapon is no lon­ger covered by the Second Amendment that leads to most of the problems in com­munication.

This is not a debate that can be eas­ily resolved, and it likely will not be. But there are facets of it that most people can agree upon. Since 1999, 86 to 92 percent of people polled have supported expand­ing background checks.

This begs the question: Why, when the vast majority of Americans support uni­versal background checks, has it been so difficult to pass legislation on them?

Why, in the wake of Newtown, were U.S. lawmakers unable to expand gun control at all?

The popular answer on the left is that the gun lobby is disproportionately pow­erful in smaller states, and senators who plan to seek re-election fear crossing them.

The popular answer on the right is that these senators are just doing their jobs and protecting the intrinsic rights of Americans guaranteed by the Constitution.

I am skeptical of the idea, though, that our rights take priority against lobbyist demands for many legislators. I know that it is always fashionable to be jaded about politicians, but the voting record of Congress throughout the past couple de­cades makes it difficult to believe that hu­man rights are even relatively important to lawmakers.

The U.S. Patriot Act of 2001, a well-documented, expansive violation of hu­man rights was passed in response to 9/11 with a 98-1 vote in the Senate and a 357-66 vote in the House.

Specific provisions have since been reauthorized through June 1, 2015, and habeas corpus rights, which allow a per­son in custody to have a trial, still do not apply to many enemy combatants. As of March 2013 there are still 166 prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, more than half of which have been cleared for release.

Ask any lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans­gender person if they feel that legislators have been overly concerned with their rights. The recent growth in the number of lawmakers supporting gay marriage is long overdue and appreciated. It is important, though, to remember that 56 per­cent of Congress still does not support marriage equality.

Gun control is an issue that must be viewed through this lens, and while the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups are surely too powerful, they are not the problem; they just take advan­tage of it. Many members of Congress are more concerned with staying in office and lining their pockets — 51 percent have re­ceived donations from the NRA, 47 percent in their last race — than they are with pro­tecting innocent civilians. On Wednesday, it may have cost us all a little safety.