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Gun Control Legislature Isn’t Passing — Here’s Why

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illustration by Zach Cooper.

illustration by Zach Cooper.

After the Senate failed to pass four separate gun control measures up for vote last month (in response to the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history”), the indignant response on social media, from Hollywood to Washington, was immediate. Take these tweets from Mia Farrow, for example:

Farrow joined President Barack Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and even Kim Kardashian in decrying the “failure” of the Senate:


Warren’s tweets were worded even more strongly:

The other side of the aisle retorted quickly.

“Today, the American people witnessed an embarrassing display in the United States Senate,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association (NRA), in a statement. “President Obama and his allies proved they are more interested in playing politics than addressing their failure to keep Americans safe from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”

Statements were also issued from top Senate Republicans, including former Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio, who criticized the potential abuse of the terror watch list and constitutional rights of American citizens if the Democrat-endorsed bills passed. Rubio endorsed an alternative measure (sponsored by Republican Senator John Cornyn) which proposed blocking terrorist suspects from buying guns for three days. He stated, “After all, the standard for denying someone any constitutional right must be a high one; it cannot be ‘because the federal government says so.’”

“Failure,” “playing politics,” “disgrace,” “political maneuvering,” “ashamed and disgusted by,” and “shame on you!” are common vernacular on either side of the aisle these days. This politically aggrandized game of “he said/ she said” appears to be fruitless. Dilemma columnist Carl Hulse of the New York Times summed it up as “another win for hyperpolitics.”

Here are the four proposals that went up to vote in the Senate, and why they failed to pass:

 

Democrat amendment 1: Require background checks for all gun purchases.

Sponsored by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut — the same senator who filibustered for 15 hours — this amendment would require a federal background check before every gun purchase in the country. This would also effectively close all of the online and gun-show loopholes in background-check federal policy.

Why it failed: Not enough Republican support.

This vote, during which not a single Republican debated, aligned consistently with votes cast on similar legislation in April 2013, after the the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Senators John McCain of Arizona, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Mark Kirk of Illinois were the only Republicans to vote in favor of the measure; Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota was the only Democrat to vote against it.

As ABC News reported, the NRA urged its members to lobby senators to oppose the Democrat bills up for vote. Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA, thanked the senators for “rejecting the gun control proposals of Senators Feinstein and Murphy.”

 

Democrat amendment 2: Prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing guns or explosives.

Sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and 26 other Senate Democrats, this amendment would “give the attorney general the authority to block the sale of guns or explosives to known or suspected terrorists, if the attorney general has a reasonable belief that the weapons would be used in connection with terrorism.”

Why it failed: Republican fears of governmental over-reach.

Voting 47 to 53, the measure failed to pass the Senate. Senator Heitkamp was the only Democrat senator to vote against the measure, and with the majority of Republican senators, agreed “reasonable belief” wasn’t enough for someone to be denied purchasing a gun. “Reasonable belief,” which is a lesser standard of the legal concept of “probable cause,” allows police officers (or other officers of the law such as the attorney general) to “stop and briefly detain a person if, based upon the officer’s training and experience” according to Black’s Law Dictionary. Republicans (and Heitkamp) believed this would interfere with the right to due process guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment, arguing those incorrectly placed on this list (the public is not aware of who is on it, or exactly what qualifies a person to be there) would unlawfully be denied their Second Amendment rights.

A new proposal, however, penned by Senator Heitkamp and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Massachusetts, seeks to combat this issue and still block terrorists from buying firearms by limiting it to the “no-fly” and “selectee” list.

 

Republican amendment 1: Prevent individuals on terrorist watch list from buying guns.

An amendment penned by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, this proposal would “require that law enforcement be alerted when anyone on the terror watch list attempts to buy a weapon from a licensed dealer. If the buyer has been investigated for terrorism within the past five years, the attorney general could block a sale for up to three days while a court reviews the sale.”

Why it failed: Too weak.

Senate Democrats, along with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, argued it would be impossible to compile a case against a suspected terrorist in three days, and thus would still allow anyone on the list to purchase a firearm.

 

Republican amendment 2: Strengthen the background check system.

Sponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, this measure would strengthen the background check system by opening lines of communication between the states, Congress, the background check agency, and federal courts. The bill also includes a new definition of mental competency in relation to guns; it also requires the attorney general to investigate how “violent video games and other factors” contribute to mass shootings.

Why it failed: Doesn’t expand background checks.

Endorsed by the NRA, this bill was destined from the beginning to be rejected by Senate Democrats. The bill would not make background checks universal, and would not close any of the gun show or online loopholes.

 

In the end, who are the American people to trust? Both the progressive Democrats (promising to “#disarmhate”) and the constitution-wielding Republicans (promising to protect the “#2ndamendment”) failed to pass any legislation.

According to Dr. Charles Gallmeier, chancellor’s professor of Sociology at Indiana University Northwest, the two sides of the debate can be defined by two fundamental sociological theories.

“The conflict theorists (Democrats) want to enact social change by convincing others that they are suffering from ‘false consciousness’ regarding the right to own guns and that the 2nd Amendment was written at a time when we had muskets and not assault rifles and change in gun laws is now absolutely necessary to stop these horrible tragedies,” Gallmeier said. “While the other side, the ‘structural functionalists (Republicans),’ are viewed by the Democrats as ‘controlled by conservative forces like the NRA and their money in order to maintain their power and social status,’” he added.

“As far as the ‘quick game of finger pointing’,”said Gallmeier, “ I am afraid that has always been the way this works and what is defined as ‘truth’ is primarily in the eyes of the beholder and in the way one has been socialized.”

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