By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – The U.S. Senate’s vote to close down, for the time being, serious discussion about gun policy reform provoked howls of fury from the majority of Americans who support more sensible gun policies.
John Krull, executive editor, TheStatehouseFile.com
They were enraged, understandably, because senators either indebted to or terrified by the National Rifle Association were able to hide behind a parliamentary maneuver to avoid not just a vote, but any serious discussion of doing background checks – defying 90 percent of the American public, according to most polls. The Senate rules require 60 votes to end a filibuster – a tactic designed to delay legislative action – and the gun control advocates could summon only 55 votes.
That means the NRA won this round.
It may prove to be a costly victory, for several reasons.
The first is that politicians who use tactics to avoid votes on issues make a tacit admission that they wouldn’t be able to win if the issue ever came to the floor. Here in Indiana, Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives never would have fled to Illinois if they thought they had a chance to stop right-to-work legislation in a floor fight. They didn’t have the votes, so they ducked both the fight and the vote.
The NRA and its pet senators did the same thing with background checks.
The second reason is that this Pyrrhic victory undercuts one of the NRA’s central messages. Every time any measure – however mild – comes up in regard to, say, restricting the access convicted homicidal maniacs might have to nuclear weapons, NRA lobbyists jump up and present themselves as the voice of the people. They say the public supports their intransigent and illogical stance on guns.
In this case, though, the NRA fought long and hard not just to thwart the public will, but to prevent the public’s voice from even being heard. The gun lobby finally got outed for being what it is – a narrow special-interest group that has no interest at all in what the general public wants or cares about.
From here on out, the issue won’t be just the damage that unregulated gun traffic can do to human beings – but also what the NRA’s determination to thwart the democratic process does to our country. Expect to see the senators – including Indiana’s own Dan Coats, a Republican – to get swamped with messages that they are bought and paid for by the gun lobby.
The last reason this will be a costly win for the NRA is this: 55 votes.
(Yes, I know the official vote was 54-46. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his vote to no so that he would be able to bring the measure back for consideration at a later date. It was a parliamentary maneuver – a signal to the NRA that two can play that game.)
More than half of the members of the U.S. Senate defied the gun lobby and said that the rights of citizens concerned about gun violence trump those of corporations that manufacture and sell deadly weapons. (Those gun manufacturers, not dues-paying members, provide the bulk of the NRA’s funding.)
Among the places where senators who defied the gun lobby hailed from were states the NRA thought it owned – West Virginia, Pennsylvania and, yes, Indiana. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., had both the intelligence and the courage to stand with the people rather than the gun manufacturers.
History turns on moments such as this one.
The vast majority of the American public now knows that the gun lobby will not be reasonable in any fashion and that too many members of the U.S. Senate either are enthralled or intimidated by the NRA. Those Americans likely will take steps to take their country back.
In the years to come, the lobbyists for the NRA, gun manufacturers and other gun lovers may rue this moment as a missed opportunity – the last chance they had to strike a deal from a position of relative strength.
They chose not to take advantage of that opportunity and instead signaled that the only path to meaningful gun reform is over them – and the senators they keep on a leash.
They probably will get the fight they’ve asked for.
That’s why this latest triumph could be a costly, if temporary, victory for them.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.