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Editorial: Senate thumbs nose at public with gun vote

Published: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 - 2:08 pm

It is a day that will live in shameful infamy for the U.S. Senate.

A modest, common-sense expansion of background checks for gun buyers was blocked Wednesday by a minority of senators who caved to pressure from the gun lobby and put their own political futures ahead of the country's best interests.

All the measure proposed to do is extend current background checks – an important tool to keep guns away from criminals and the mentally ill – to cover purchases online and at gun shows.

It was carefully constructed so as not to restrict the rights of lawful gun owners by one iota. It was a painstaking compromise produced by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, who both had "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association.

The proposal actually was supported by a majority of 54 senators, including all but four Democrats. But under the Senate's procedural rules that have been taken to a ridiculous extreme, it takes 60 votes for proposals to move forward.

President Barack Obama was justifiably angry when he called out senators for their shameful failure. He noted that 90 percent of Americans in poll after poll support stronger background checks. He pointed out that opponents flat-out lied when they said the proposal would create a national gun registry.

Obama was flanked by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who miraculously survived a mass shooting in Arizona, and the parents and siblings of children slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and he hit back at critics who said it was "emotional blackmail" for them to lobby Congress.

"Are they serious?" he said. "Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don't have a right to weigh in on this issue?"

While the president vowed to continue working to reduce gun violence, the defeat of stronger background checks makes it appear very unlikely that any meaningful gun safety measures will pass this Congress. Indeed, an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California to reinstitute the federal ban on assault weapons and to prohibit high-capacity ammunition magazines also went down to defeat Wednesday, winning only 40 votes.

There is second-guessing, of course, that Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada waited too long after the Newtown massacre in December to push gun legislation.

The president, however, asked the more telling question of senators who are ignoring the will of the American people: "Who are we here to represent?"

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