Four bills that seek to curb gun violence in America made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee where they confront an uncertain fate in the full body. It is unclear which, if any, will prevail in an up or down vote even if Republicans don’t decide to filibuster.
Only one of them received significant GOP votes in committee, a relatively non-contentious bill that would increase funding for school safety measures. The most muscular bills, to expand background checks to private sales and a reinstatement of the assault weapon ban which includes curbs on large capacity magazines, received no Republican votes and face a particularly hard struggle.
The story has been the same in states such as Colorado, Connecticut, New York, Oregon and Washington State where gun control legislation proposed by Democrats has won minimal to non-existent support from Republicans. Some such as New York, Connecticut and Colorado have managed to pass meaningful and commonsense restrictions regardless, or seem close to doing so. In Oregon the struggle goes on. And in Washington, my home state, the effort failed.
Most states of course aren’t even bothering to try to strengthen their gun laws and, truth be told, while state laws are laudable and worthwhile, they cannot substitute for tough national laws. And the NRA has little to fear on that score, not with a GOP essentially in its pocket and a Democratic Party still fearful of the gun lobby’s power.
The ultimate responsibility for the looming failure in the other Washington, however, rests with the people of this nation. Even in the wake of the most horrendous mass shooting in our history, we have failed to generate the outrage and demand for action that is surely warranted. No political or electoral consequences will accrue to Republicans and the handful of Democrats who will, shamefully, join them, who will tow the NRA line to defeat even the most sensible restrictions such as banning military-style semi-automatic rifles and high capacity magazines that afford a deranged gunman or criminal inordinate firepower, or a universal background check.
We will prove to the world once again that we are a dysfunctional nation that has lost the ability to agree upon much less address our greatest problems, whether it is the budget, health care or our stunning level of gun violence.
Fault for this lies in part with arcane senate rules that require super majorities to get anything done and a GOP willing and able to abuse those rules to an unprecedented degree. And thanks to a supine United States Supreme Court, the GOP’s gerrymandering ways have managed to win them a 33-seat majority in the House of Representatives despite the fact that they lost the popular vote.
However, it is also true that we have become a nation tyrannized by a minority of fanatics whether it is the Tea Party who dominate today’s GOP or the NRA and fellow gun-zealots, whose power to paralyze our public policy apparatus is disproportionate to their numbers but highly destructive to the nation’s well-being.
Unless and until we are willing to confront and defeat the extremists in our body politic, we will never make this a better country for our children.