It looks as if enough Republicans are on board to avoid a really ugly moment for the GOP: a filibuster to block a federal law that would require background checks on nearly all gun sales.
More than a dozen Republican senators have said they’ll try to block a vote on “any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for additional gun restrictions.”
They don’t want a debate on the bill’s merits, much less a vote. They don’t want to explain why they oppose the single most effective tool to keep guns from ending up in the wrong hands — a tool favored by 9 out of 10 Americans. Democrats and Republicans. Gun owners or not.
The filibuster threat is a cowardly and irresponsible tactic. It’s also a bad political move, which is why several other Senate Republicans came out against it Tuesday. The GOP doesn’t need to be seen as obstructing sensible measures aimed at preventing the sort of violence that killed 20 first-graders in Newtown, Conn., 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., and a 15-year-old majorette and a 6-month-old baby, weeks apart, in Chicago.
The broad antiviolence agenda set out by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the wake of the Newtown killings has been narrowed considerably. It’s still not certain that anything at all will get done. That would be a travesty.
At bare minimum, Congress must pass universal background checks. Federally licensed gun dealers already conduct those checks before making a sale. The requirement should be expanded to cover Internet transactions and sales at gun shows — the preferred shopping venue for people who can’t pass a background check at their local gun dealer and for the “straw buyers” who resell guns to criminals.
Some lawmakers, gun lobbyists and conspiracists object to a requirement that sellers keep records of the check and sale. They think it’s the first step to a registry of gun owners — “government surveillance of constitutionally protected activity,” in the words of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of the leaders of the filibuster effort.
That’s not the case. Without a paperwork requirement, there’s no way to know if a background check was actually done. That would make the law unenforceable. Congress can’t afford to come up empty in this effort.
Anticipating resistance, Obama has insisted that lawmakers owe it to those victims to vote, up or down, on his proposals. During his State of the Union address in February — with the parents of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton next to first lady Michelle Obama and relatives of the Sandy Hook victims seated throughout the chamber — Obama demanded that Congress consider meaningful gun restrictions. “They deserve a vote,” he said.
He repeated the line in a speech at the University of Hartford on Monday, wagging his finger at the threatened filibuster. “You deserve better than that,” he told the crowd. “You deserve a vote.” He’s right.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to move the bill forward today. The filibuster crowd needs to stand down.