April 20, 2013
A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week says 70 percent of Americans think the Republican Party is out of touch.
The same poll found that 86 percent of Americans — and 84 percent of those who call themselves Republicans — support requiring background checks on gun purchases made at gun shows or over the Internet. On Wednesday, a measure that would do exactly that was stopped in the U.S. Senate after gaining the support of only four Republicans.
That shameful disconnect defeated the Senate’s best chance at passing meaningful gun restrictions, gutting the first serious attempt at such legislation in two decades.
A national conversation that began with the slaughter of 20 first-graders all but ended with a paranoid debate about whether requiring background checks on gun buyers would somehow lead to the government going door to door confiscating weapons.
Are Americans really worried about that? No.
More than three-fourths of those polled — and two-thirds of Republicans — said they strongly support expanded background checks. Most Americans, including more than half of those who own guns, believe it’s possible to pass gun laws without stepping on the Second Amendment.
The point of background checks is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Federally licensed gun dealers already run checks before making a sale; the measure before the Senate would have extended them to the venues where those who can’t pass a background check do their shopping. It’s common sense.
The National Rifle Association says it’s the first step toward a national gun registry. That’s a great fetcher line for the NRA’s perpetual fundraising appeal, but it’s a bogeyman.
To counter the fearmongering, the bill’s authors — a red state Democrat and a blue state Republican, both with A ratings from the NRA — included a provision that prohibits establishing a gun registry and contains criminal penalties for anyone who uses the data for that purpose.
Yet there was Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., harping about the “unnecessary burdens” the measure would place on gun owners and the “potential overreach by the federal government into private gun sales.”
Others hid behind a GOP “alternative” that called for better enforcement of the existing system without expanding checks to purchases made outside that system, as if that wouldn’t make things worse.
This isn’t a question of whether GOP lawmakers are tone deaf. It’s a question of whether they’re listening to the public or the gun lobby. And it’s a reflection of which voters are most likely to hold them accountable.