Failure of Gun Control Bill a National Embarrassment

The Editorial Board

Even in an age when Congress has a lower approval rating than most reality television stars, this has to move the needle even ever so slightly, doesn’t it?

The gun control legislation inspired by the Newtown massacre — yes, the gun control legislation that had already been shamelessly watered down and carved up by gun lobbyists (more on that later) — died an ignominious death on Wednesday, failing to muster up the necessary votes in the Senate. Again, to reiterate: This goes beyond a failure to pass bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, proposals which, regrettably, never seemed capable of scraping together enough support. The Senate failed even to pass legislation expanding background checks for gun buyers, which was intended as a bipartisan compromise.

Increased background checks were supposed to be a worst case scenario, something for the Obama administration to fall back on if it lost the war in the legislature that has raged since Adam Lanza turned a gun on Sandy Hook Elementary. But instead, the U.S. is back where it started — namely, light-years behind nearly the entire developed world. The gun control debate is well-tread territory, but the events of the past couple of months point to a larger crisis — one that strikes at the very heart of our system of government.

The fate of this legislation shouldn’t have to depend upon the emotional intensity surrounding the issue at any given moment. As The New York Times reported, “Aides to senators supporting the bill said that only outside circumstances, like another mass shooting, might cause those who voted ‘no’ to reconsider their positions.” It goes without saying that our elected officials should be thoughtful enough to consider the effects of tragedies that occurred slightly longer ago than yesterday without dissolving into myopia; it is absurd and shameful that Congress doesn’t yet consider the situation to be bad enough to merit taking action.

A headline from Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker’s satire columnist, perhaps encapsulated it best (it’s a somewhat frightening thought that parody is becoming the only adequate means of commentary, but that’s another discussion): “Courageous Senators Stand Up to American People.” An Associated Press poll released over the weekend showed that 56 percent of Americans support an assault weapons ban (with 42 percent opposing), and it has long been a fact that the overwhelming majority of the country favors expanded background checks. In other words, in a functioning representative democracy, this should be a non-issue.

But over the past few years “functioning” has become far too strong of a term to describe the Capitol, an experiment in republicanism warped beyond all recognition. The National Rifle Asso- ciation spent $500,000 on this fight on Wednesday alone, which would be shocking if it weren’t such a tired script. The lobby had already convinced Congress to abandon the assault weapon and high-capacity magazine bans weeks ago, securing what most gun nuts had wanted all along, but refused to let that be the end of it. They went for the jugular and succeeded wildly — and maybe, just maybe, it will be their undoing.