The political sparring in the U.S. Senate over modest gun-control proposals puts the place to shame.
It would be easy to blame the National Rifle Association, which opposes just about any legislation with even a wisp of gun restriction and has intimated enough members of both houses of Congress to get its way. The NRA has people believing that the Second Amendment is under assault when that’s rarely the case. That’s much of the reason the assault weapons ban and even a limit on high-capacity ammunition magazines can’t get enough traction for serious consideration.
But the NRA is only a contributing factor in this week’s — and last week’s and probably next week’s — impasse over gun control legislation. No less a factor is the distrust that sometimes borders on contempt despite lawmakers’ references to adversaries as “my good friend from … or “the lady or gentleman from…”
At least 14 Republican senators have vowed to filibuster what ought to have been a fairly simple measure expanding background checks for gun sales. Such a move would block debate and stall the proposal.
One of their reasons is distrust of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. One of their stated concerns is that if they don’t block the bill, Sen. Reid and his colleagues will load it up with amendments Republicans consider offensive. They might be right. Sen. Reid seems as content to embarrass Republicans as get legislation through the Senate.
To his credit, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, wants nothing to do with this filibuster. On “Face the Nation” Sunday, he cited the ability of Republicans as well as Democrats to offer amendments as a reason to reject a filibuster. Another reason had to do with principle. “The purpose of the United States Senate,” he said on “Face the Nation,” “is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand. What are we afraid of?”
What indeed? Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, were trying to hammer a compromise of their own on background checks for gun purchases. Both senators get high marks from the NRA, which ought to give their proposal credibility in both political parties.
Perhaps they can succeed where others have failed. And perhaps firearms will at least be harder to acquire for individuals who shouldn’t have access to deadly weapons.