Nel's New Day

April 11, 2013

Gun Vote, Not a Victory

People cheered at today’s vote in the Senate: in a 68-31 vote, the Senate passed a motion to allow debate on the proposed gun legislation. The cheers show how dysfunctional Congress has become when a victory is allowing a bill to move forward to a vote to proceed. Two Democrats (Mark Begich from Alaska and Mark Pryor from Arkansas) opposed the vote to just debate the bill, and 16 Republicans voted in favor. In the week that marks four months after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown (CT), 31 GOP senators tried to block even debating a bill to make life safer for people in this country.

This vote, however, doesn’t mean that the bill is now up for debate. It was only on “cloture,” meaning that there now has to be a vote on a motion to proceed, which could be put off for as much as 30 hours. If Senate has a majority vote to proceed, then the chamber begins debate, starting with an amendment changing the provisions regarding background checks.

The amendment comes from the NRA’s success in watering down the universal background check requirement for buying guns. Under the pretense of supporting a bill, the NRA persuaded two senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), to omit background check for private sales. Once they agreed on this change, NRA came out in strong opposition to the bill (roughly translated as “hell no!”). Commercial sales require background checks, but others do not.

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, said that the proposal “doesn’t ‘close’ the private sale loophole” but merely “reshape[s] it.” He added:

“Private sales still won’t require a background check, so long as they occur outside a gun show or without a publicized advertisement. There’s nothing in the law that prevents someone from going to a gun show, finding the gun he likes, then meeting the seller off-site to complete the sale without a background check.”

There actually is no victory because the GOP plans a plethora of amendments to bog down the bill. Even if anything survives the Senate, there’s a 99.5 percent guarantee that the House will quash any gun legislation.

Legislators who opposes tighter gun legislation should be forced to watch a video from  Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesperson for al Qaeda, who endorses our current lax gun control in the United States:

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

Gadahn is slightly wrong. People can buy only a semi-automatic rifle at a gun show. Even if the proposed bill is passed, however, anyone can just wander over to a neighbor and buy these weapons. Sure it might be illegal, but terrorists tend not to follow all the nation’s laws.

Republicans are considering their own gun legislation. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wants to tighten background checks on people with mental illness and reform health care privacy laws “so we can get better access to troubled folks–the Virginia Tech situation.” He hasn’t said how his bill would differ from the one that will now move into debate because of today’s vote.

Even with a watered down bill, any Senate decision puts House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in an awkward position. Trying to look more professional, the harried leader turned all decisions over to the Senate, assuming that the gridlocked chamber could send the House no bills. If the Senate passes gun legislation, then the ball is tossed over to the highly split Republicans in the House. If he doesn’t move on legislation sent by the Senate, he looks as if he’s obstructing the will of the people. If he does—and fails—then he looks worse than he does now. Boehner, like all the other House members, is up for re-election in a year.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who supported a Pennsylvania background checks law in the state Legislature almost 20 years ago, expressed support for the Senate background checks measure. On the other hand Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Phil Gingrey (R-GA) didn’t want anything to do with the Senate bill and wanted a plan.

Sources indicated four House options if the Senate sends them anything: pass it along to the House Judiciary Committee for a markup (to procrastinate and then gut the bill); ask that committee for its own bill (to match whatever the NRA wants); ignore the bill (unlikely because they’ll get in trouble); or move it directly to the floor (if the GOP gets in trouble without doing that).

In the meantime, anti-gun legislation people are moving along in their own way that displays their mental illness. Last week, after the U.N. passed its first international Arms Trade Treaty by 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions, saber-rattling GOP senators started their opposition. The Senate must ratify the treaty by a two-thirds vote—67 senators voting in favor—before the United States can be a party to the treaty. Last month, the Senate added an amendment to the budget plan to stop this from happening.  The treaty cannot take effect until at least 50 countries ratify it.

As usual, conservative senators use misinformation to oppose what they don’t want. The treaty would not control the domestic use of weapons anywhere, but it would require countries that ratify it to have federal regulations to control gun transfers and regulate arms brokers. The purpose of the treaty is to regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade by keeping illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters, and organized crime. The United States is responsible for 30 percent of international gun transfers.

The three countries who voted against the treaty? Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Because of the U.S. conservatives, the United States is adopting the policies of countries that Bush labeled the “axis of evil.” Last summer, conservatives said they needed more time to consider the treat. Their position was immediately echoed by Russia and China.

One bright spot comes from Maine. Following the lead of four other states, its state legislature took up two dozen gun bills. One bill would ban carrying weapons “in a public place in a manner that causes a reasonable person to suffer intimidation or alarm.” Another would limit the size of magazines to 10 rounds. (There is a backlash, one bill preventing governments from destroying firearms and ammunition received from gun buybacks and another exempting firearms and ammunition from federal laws.) Since Democrats regained control of Maine’s legislature, GOP Gov. Paul LePage has generally refused to meet with it or sign any bills that it passes.

Mayors against Illegal Guns plans to take a page out of NRA’s book and grade lawmakers on their support for gun safety regulations. For decades, the NRA has operated a reign of terror to bully legislators who oppose their draconian positions on lax gun regulation. Now Mayors will have a scorecard to show voters and donors.

How afraid are the GOP senators who promised to filibuster any gun legislation? CBS News contacted all 14 of them, and all 14 refused to be interviewed about the filibuster. That includes Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who desperately wants publicity. Last December NBC’s Meet the Press  and CBS’s Face the Nation both commented on gun-rights backers’ refusing to appear on their programs. It looks like fear to me.

NRA’s fear was palpable when the association presented its grand new plan to stopping gun violence by making schools safer through more guns and fixing mental illness in the nation. The rollout of “National School Shield” was accompanied by security guards at the National Press Club. About 20 of them, approximately one for every three reporters attending the event, presented an unusual spectacle with uniforms, exposed gun holsters, earpieces, and bulges under their suit jackets, according to Dana Milbank.

The plan, replete with guns at school and supposedly in “full independence” from the NRA, was pretty much like the plan that the NRA proposed three days after the Sandy Hook massacre. Background checks weren’t part of it.

Milbank wrote:

“A reporter asked Hutchinson what he was afraid of.

“’There’s nothing I’m afraid of. I’m very wide open,’ Hutchinson replied, separated from his unarmed questioners by an eight-foot buffer zone, a lectern, a raised podium, a red-velvet rope and a score of gun-toting men. ‘There’s nothing I’m nervous about.’”

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