Fandango’s Provocative Question this week is indeed provocative!
Do you think that there is any chance that the U.S. Congress will ever take decisive, bipartisan action to pass and enact nationwide common sense gun laws to try and stem the tide of mass shootings, or is the best that the American Congress will ever do is to send thoughts and prayers to the families of loved ones killed in mass shooting incidents?
Sadly, my answer is no, but with a caveat. Right now, the U.S. Congress is so gridlocked, using the filibuster as a way to block any legislation put forth by the Democratic president and Congress. With this filibuster, 60 votes are needed for most bills to be passed, because it takes 60 Senators to end debate on a bill. Since the Republicans don’t seem to have ideas to debate about, they just declare that the debate is “open” indefinitely on bills they don’t approve. (Have you seen the Senate floor during debates on bills lately? The chamber is nearly empty.) Since Senate Republicans seem to be in lock-step with their leader, Mitch McConnell, votes on bills are strictly partisan. The House of Representatives does not have a filibuster, so although most votes are made along party lines, legislation moves faster through the House.
What’s more, Senators, with their 6-year terms and an equal number (2) from each state, no matter its population, are beholden to not only their constituents, but their lobbyists. The House also has lobbyists, but terms in the House are only 2 years, so Representatives spend much of their time campaigning when they are not in session. Furthermore, Representatives are a lot closer to their constituents and more likely to listen to them. Representatives are always holding town halls, while Senators are not. So the Senate is the “upper” house of Congress – read “elite.”
The National Rifle Association is a huge lobbyist that has had tremendous influence on Senators. The NRA is so powerful that a low rating from them can cause Congress members to be defeated in the next election. In turn, the NRA is beholden to gun manufacturers. Over the years, the top brass at the NRA has become increasingly intransigent, so that common sense gun legislation, such as background checks or banning military-style weapons, has come to be seen by politicians as “leftist.” Some of the membership of the NRA is swayed by the propaganda, but polls have shown repeatedly that 90% of NRA members are in favor of background checks. This should not be a partisan issue!
Personally, I think the Second Amendment should be thrown out altogether, because its history is closely tied to the institution of slavery, to appease slaveholders of the South who hired slave hunters to track down runaway slaves. Its wording is also unclear and out of date. In the 1700s, conditions in the United States were very different than they are today. There were no automatic rifles; there were no high-capacity magazines; and 18th century-style militias were very different than self-styled militias today. In consequence, this amendment has been interpreted differently throughout U.S.. history, depending on which way political winds were blowing. Strict “constitutionalists” on the Supreme Court (and don’t get me started on that!) tend to have a very narrow interpretation of what the amendment means, as if you can transpose those exact words and they will have “the same” meaning today. They claim the “right to bear arms” applies to anyone aged 18 or older, with no questions asked, no matter what that individual’s criminal record and mental state has been. Somehow the right to own a gun is more sacred than a person’s right to be free from fear of being killed by a maniac with a gun at any number of normal places one frequents – supermarkets, schools, churches, movie theatres, nightclubs, etc.
Automatic, military-style weapons were banned in recent times – during the Clinton administration – but the ban was for 10 years, and when George W. Bush was president, the ban was allowed to lapse. And even during the ban, it was still possible to obtain such weapons at gun shows, as the Columbine shooters did in 1999.
Meanwhile, people die from gun violence every day – killings that rarely are reported, because they are localized, such as the inner city of Chicago where gang members rule and many people own handguns (cheap and easy to conceal). There are groups of parents and other concerned citizens who are trying to put an end to this senseless killing. Kids in their apartments doing homework, killed by a stray bullet that go through a window; high school seniors celebrating their upcoming graduation in a park, one of them gunned down because the shooter thought she was someone else. People are shot for wearing brand-name shoes or jackets, because the person in possession of the gun wants to steal those items. Little children can get hold of their parents’ guns that are not safely stored and accidently shoot their brother or sister. These things happen a lot – way too often.
But somehow, making people wait to purchase a gun for a few days while their background is checked is a violation of their civil rights. Yet people who go to a supermarket to buy groceries or get a Covid vaccine don’t have the right to go about their business safely. The situation is so twisted in this country that people’s right to live is literally trumped by another person’s right to not only own a gun, but to carry it around in plain sight for everyone to see. This is why death by gun violence in the U.S. is hundreds of times higher than in other countries.
However, IF Senate rules can be reformed, so that the filibuster can’t be used if there isn’t active debate about a piece of legislation going on in the chamber, then a simple majority can make a big difference in passing urgent legislation, like gun safety reform or voting rights. The Democrats WON the election! Yet the president and 51 votes in the Senate aren’t enough due to these ridiculous rules.
As for the House of Representatives, although currently having a Democratic majority – barely – the people are not going to be democratically represented as long as there is gerrymandering. This is a problem on the state level too. For example, the Wisconsin Legislature and Senate are dominated by Republicans even though the Democrats got more votes due to the way district maps are drawn! The state’s Supreme Court is filled with right-wing justices who put the kibosh on any Covid restrictions the Democratic governor tries to mandate; and they do the same to any challenges to election irregularities and undemocratic voting regulations.
Unless there are MAJOR CHANGES to our election system, gun safety will remain a distant dream, even though a large majority of the American people approve of common sense regulations. I am not deluded that the 2nd amendment will ever be repealed, but it can be interpreted according to modern society’s needs and technology. But this only if citizens vote no matter what barriers are put in their way and remain engaged in the political process – and that includes being in the streets protesting whenever necessary. Public pressure can work.
Meanwhile, people all over the United States of America lay wreaths at mass shooting scenes and offer their thoughts and fervent prayers.
Post Script: I just read Marilyn Armstrong’s answer to the question, which to me made a lot of sense, so I am linking it here: https://teepee12.com/2021/03/26/guns-greed-and-politics-fpq-114/