Opinion: Gun control and political cowardice

By: Kilian Schlemmer
On April 17, U.S. senators voted down the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey legislation, a bill which proposed to expand background checks on firearm sales.

Rifles at the National Firearms Museum, Va. Photo by Joe Loong [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

By: KILIAN SCHLEMMER

Rifles at the National Firearms Museum, Va. Photo by Joe Loong [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

Rifles at the National Firearms Museum, Va. Photo by Joe Loong [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

On April 17, U.S. senators voted down the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey legislation, a bill which proposed to expand background checks on firearm sales. The bill was President Barack Obama’s best chance of passing meaningful gun control legislation in the aftermath of the December massacre in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and 6 adults dead. But with 54 votes in favour, and 46 against, the bill was defeated, failing to win the 60 votes it required to clear the Senate.

In the months following the Newtown shooting, gun enthusiasts have voiced their concerns over the government’s plan to tighten gun control measures. Attempts by Obama to pass gun control legislation, such as a ban on assault rifles, were seen by many gun owners as a threat to the second amendment rights of Americans – “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.” What makes the rejection of the Manchin-Toomey legislation so deplorable is the fact that this bill was a far cry from threatening any such rights.

The proposed legislation had absolutely nothing to do with taking away the rights of legal gun owners. It had nothing to do with political ideology, and it had nothing to do with curbing recreational gun usage. In fact, the two senators who designed this legislation, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey, are both proud gun owners. This bill was simply an attempt to apply background checks on commercial gun sales, meaning weapons sold over the internet and at gun shows.  The background checks would not be applied to guns being sold between family members or friends, as long as the sale was not advertised.

There is no adequate reason to reject these measures. Aside from subjecting them to background checks, the proposed legislation would have no effect on the lives of gun owners. Many pro-gun activists claim that background checks are not 100 per cent proven to curb gun violence. But does that really matter? If there is even a remote chance these measures could save just one life, is it not worth it?

Why would 46 senators vote against an amendment that up to 90 per cent of Americans supported? The complete disregard for democracy and human safety shown by these senators stems from their fear of gun lobbyists. Instead of making a rational decision that considers the victims of gun violence, these senators chose to cower in fear of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) political influence. After the bill was rejected last week, media outlets such as The Guardian reported that almost all of the senators who voted to reject these measures had received money from pro-gun lobbyists at some point in their political careers. Should we really allow political lobbyists to stop a measure that could save human lives?

Groups such as the NRA spend vast amounts of money to influence political decisions in the U.S. This has led to a Senate whose members no longer do what is right, but what is politically convenient. In this instance, 46 senators decided their political relationship with gun lobbyists is more important than the lives of American citizens. Ultimately, the NRA has more of a voice than the victims of gun violence do.

In 2011, there were over 32,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. With such disturbing numbers, there is a chance that innocent people will have to pay a horrific price for the Senate’s decision to block last week’s proposed gun legislation. Until politicians stand up to powerful gun lobbyists, this reality will not change in America. The NRA’s influence on Washington has politicians trembling in fear to the point that informed and democratic decision-making is being rapidly eroded.

Try to forget political ideology for a moment. For just a minute, forget political parties, and forget your stance on gun ownership. The measures that were rejected last week would not have impeded recreational gun use or legal gun ownership. What these measures may have done is saved lives. But the influence of gun lobbyists outweighed the opinions of gun victims, and the power of the NRA defeated the values of democracy and human life. If last week’s vote in the U.S. Senate showed us one thing, it’s that some politicians are more scared of the NRA than they are of losing more innocent people to senseless gun violence.

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