We are confused.
Wednesday, we witnessed our political system fail. The Senate rejected a bill that would have extended background checks on gun sales to sales made at gun shows and online.
According to any poll, roughly 90 percent of Americans — and the vast majority of Penn students — support expanded background checks. This bill was not partisan. It did not threaten Second Amendment rights. To the contrary, it was sponsored by a Democrat and Republican, both with “A” ratings from the NRA (which it itself used to support background checks). The bill steered far away from difficult constitutional questions — background checks have empirically been upheld.
We have yet to hear a legitimate reason why the bill was not passed. Some have claimed the bill would set up a national gun registry, and others have purported it would restrict gun sales between friends. These claims are simply false — the bill specifically leaves out private sales between friends and goes out of its way to state a gun registry would not be allowed.
Indeed, the reason this bill failed was because senators feared lobbying groups like the NRA. Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, has stated that in meetings with senators, many of them could not point to any part of the bill they disagreed with.
Our system and our representatives’ values are seriously flawed when one lobbying group can lie and threaten to withhold money to get its way when the country is overwhelmingly in support of any policy. Even the second biggest gun advocacy group supported this bill
It says something about a country when no event, no matter how tragic, can spur our country to pass any change. And when gun violence is as prevalent as it is in the United States, it is reckless to dismiss appeals for change as simply emotional rhetoric. In other countries, like Australia and the United Kingdom, more isolated shootings have yielded monumental change and hope. Here, such events yield nothing.
While this bill was not a large step, it was progress, it was momentum, it could have been precedent. With it, we could have moved forward — still together — and talked about what more we could do. The fact that we can do nothing is just ridiculous.
One well-reasoned critique is that this bill may not have done much, either. It wouldn’t have prevented Newtown and it wouldn’t have prevented every future incident.
This is true. No bill on any issue will prevent everything it seeks to curb. But that’s not a reason to vote against the bill. If this bill didn’t shoot that high and still didn’t pass, where can we go? Those who said the bill was weak and voted against it are almost exclusively the same people who, when more ambitious bills are suggested, scream “unconstitutional” and walk out of the room.
And that’s the problem. The 10 percent is more vocal than the 90. The Alex Joneses and the NRA make this their sole priority. It’s a shame people who do care about this issue — but who also care about other issues — apparently don’t talk about it enough to make their potentially much larger voice force congressional action.
The gun debate isn’t straightforward. This isn’t just about Newtown, Aurora or Virginia Tech — it’s about the thousands of gun homicides that occur per year. Gun crime isn’t something that can be addressed in one bill — but background checks are. This issue is something that can, lamentably, affect any one of us, and, if nothing else, should make us care more.
If we can’t pass measures nearly everyone approves of — if we can’t take any steps in the wake of tragedy after tragedy — we have to ask, what can we do?
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