What seemed like the best chance in decades for federal gun law reform died in the Senate on Wednesday as another campaign of lies gave the National Rifle Association a legislative victory in Washington.
The national outrage after the shootings in Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., failed to move most Republicans and a small group of rural-state Democrats who could have made it more difficult for criminals and the seriously mentally ill to buy guns.
A modest bill that would have extended background checks to firearms purchases at gun shows and over the Internet won support from a majority of senators, 54-46, but did not get the 60 votes needed to advance in the face of a filibuster. Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken both supported the measure.
A visibly angry President Obama, who rightly used the term “shameful” in comments after the vote, vowed to keep pressing for tighter gun laws. While his emotion was heartfelt, the optimism seems misplaced.
Even as the president tried to comfort the relatives of Newtown victims who joined him at the White House, the NRA was releasing a statement that said the law “would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution.”
That claim was a continuation of the campaign of distortion by the group in the weeks leading up the vote.
“Where I come from in West Virginia, I don’t know how to put the words any plainer than this: That is a lie. That is simply a lie,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said a few hours before the vote. In a rare show of bipartisanship, Manchin had joined with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in backing the bill.
There’s a chance the bill will resurface in the Senate, and in the meantime supporters will have more time to find the necessary support. But even Toomey seemed ready to distance himself from the failed effort, saying it was time to move on to other pressing issues.
That willingness to forget the victims of gun violence should not be tolerated by the majority of Americans who support reasonable gun laws.
On Wednesday, faced with a choice that spoke volumes about our national conscience, 46 U.S. senators voted to move on. What a shame indeed.