Thursday, April 18, 2013

Background Checks Fail in U.S. Senate

How to pass a bill in three easy steps: 1) Make sure, before introducing the bill, that you have enough votes to ensure its passage. This process is made easier if your party controls the chamber from which the bill is launched; 2) if the votes are insufficient, redraft the bill to acquire more votes; 3) then and only then introduce the bill.

In the case of the gun restriction bill introduced and rejected by the U.S. Senate, something went wrong between steps 1 and 3.

The gun restriction bill rejected in the Democratic controlled U.S. Senate was a much watered down version of its Connecticut cousin.

The Connecticut gun restriction bill, S.B. No. 1160, includes in part the following features: 1) universal criminal background checks for the sale of all guns including the private sales of rifles and shotguns. Background checks also would be required to buy ammunition and magazines; 2) the bill establishes the first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry in the nation. Persons who have been convicted of any of 40 weapons offenses must register with the state for five years after their release; 3) people involuntarily committed by court order to a hospital for psychiatric disabilities within five years would not be allowed to possess a gun; 4) in a follow-up measure, owners of weapons will be legally required to protectively store and secure a firearm in cases in which a resident on the premises poses a risk of personal injury to themselves or others.

The Connecticut bill added to a long list of guns already banned in the state (150) additional weapons, including the semi-automatic long rifle used by Adam Lanza in his assault on Sandy Hook Elementary school children and their wards. The bill, accepted on a bipartisan vote in Connecticut’s Democratic controlled General Assembly – 26-10 in the Senate and 105-44 in the House -- moved the state to the number one position among states in the nation that restrict guns purchases by non-criminals.

The national gun restriction bill, a considerably stripped down version of Connecticut’s law,  contained ONLY a mandate for expanded background checks. And yet the bill failed by four votes in a chamber controlled by Democrats. Four Democrats – including Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate Harry Reid, an “avid Nevada sportsman,” according to his biography -- voted against the bill. Mr. Reid said he voted against the bill so that later he would be able to vote for a similar amendment.

Following defeat of the bill, President Barack Obama reverted to his default campaign mode. Despite U.S. Senator Chris Murphy’s ringing declaration that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was, at least on the point of background checks, a toothless and clawless paper tiger, Mr. Obama traced the defeat of the bill to an empowered NRA, the villain in every Democrat’s closet.

“Instead of supporting this compromise,” Mr. Obama said, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of big brother gun registry – even though the bill did the opposite" and "in fact, outlawed any registry," Obama said. So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington…” not to mention – and no Democrat did – the Democratic controlled U.S. Senate.

Fear ruled the day.” Angered by a resounding defeat Wednesday of proposed gun control legislation that grew out of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre,” the Harford Courant reported, “President Barack Obama stood outside the White House with parents of murdered Newtown first-graders and vowed: ‘This effort is not over.’"

Indeed, the upside of the losing vote in the Democratic controlled Senate is that Democrats who favored the Senate bill will be able to use the no vote as a Deus ex machine that will lift them into Congress, while Democrats who voted against the bill need not worry overmuch about the eltoral consequences of a dead bill. The vote against the bill in the Senate by Democratic Senate leader Reid certainly will not hurt his re-election chances in Nevada, whose lesser U.S. Senator, Republican Dean Heller, also voted against the measure. Mr. Heller telegraphed his “No” vote on April 16, causing the Las Vegas Sun to cough up a hairball:

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller will vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment on gun control, his office announced Tuesday afternoon. The announcement potentially seriously complicates Sen. Harry Reid’s efforts to get 60 senators to vote for what many have surmised is the best chance the Senate has to approve expanded background checks, an idea recent polls show has wide support — almost 90 percent — in the general populace.”
Connecticut's two U.S. Senators Blumenthal and Murphy have yet to comment on Mr. Reid's uncharacteristic bumbling.
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