I am not a single issue voter. Women’s rights, climate, deficit reduction, energy, financial reform and the economy are all issues that matter to me. Until the massacre of 20 young children at Sandy Hook, I did not know how much reducing gun violence mattered to me. Recognizing there was an opportunity to capitalize on gun control reforms that did not threaten second amendment rights, my interest in gun issues peaked...right along with the rest of America.
Knowing the politics of living in a rural red state, I immediately lowered my hopes of reform to minimal expectations of gun measures that could possibly be supported by either one of our Senators. Certainly, a ‘no’ vote on assault weapons ban. Maybe, likely not, for limiting magazine clips. But certainly a ‘yes’ for background checks to make sure guns did not end up in the hands of criminals or the mentally unstable. Both Senators, after all, talked about the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Besides 92% of Americans support background checks.
Requiring background checks was the remaining action we could give to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary; give to Gabrielle Giffords and all the victims of mass shootings by assault weapons. To do anything less at this pivotal, opportunistic time would be shameful. Even if our red state politics raised the false fear of “chipping away at second amendment rights”, the bipartisan amendment was crafted by two NRA Senators rated A for their commitment to protecting second amendment rights. And even if this wasn’t enough for voting in the affirmative, surely our Senators would at least allow the vote to proceed out of respect for the victims.
Instead, Senator Mark Begich and Senator Lisa Murkowski voted to block the bipartisan measure from making it to the floor for a vote, and blocking the will of 92 percent of Americans. This is shameful on two levels, one for the victims and two for letting extreme minorities rule our democracy.
It’s hard not to look at the gun vote and be angry all over again for the gridlock created by the filibuster rule. We’ve become hostage to a procedural rule that keeps the party who won the election from ever governing. Losing elections is bad, but the solution is not to prevent the winners from governing effectively.
As explained by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the sponsor of a reform proposal that would require lawmaker to wage actual talking filibusters, “The filibuster is being abused to create gridlock and prevent the Senate from doing the people’s business. Instead of being a deliberative body, the Senate has become a deadlocked body.” Senators Begich and Murkowski have played right into the Senate remaining a deadlocked body. If it can’t operate when the moment is so right and the public support so strong, will our US Congress ever solve any big issue?
This is the disturbing question raised by the filibuster on background checks. Apparently, such questions do not sit well with the constituents from Alaska, Arizona, Nevada and Ohio that blocked the vote. According to the liberal leaning Pubic Policy Polling (PPP) Group, all five Senators from these states have lower approval ratings and are now paying the political price for preventing action on violence reductions. This includes Senators Begich and Murkowski.
According to the PPP poll, “Murkowski has lost the majority approval she enjoyed in the months prior to the gun vote. In February, Murkowski scored a 54-33 percent approval/disapproval; now, 46 percent approve of her work, while 41 percent disapprove. While Murkowski used to enjoy support from nearly six in 10 Alaska Democrats; now only 44 percent approve of her. The poll results were similar for Alaska’s Begich. While 49 percent approved of Begich in February, just 41 percent do so now. Nearly four in 10 voters said they’re less likely to vote for both Murkowski and Begich after they rejected the background check legislation.”
Although I will remain a multi-issue person with a long term perspective, the vote taken by our Senators looms large and significant. Apparently, I am not alone.