Tug-of-war over the gun control bill set to begin.
Yesterday, the Senate voted 68-31 to begin debate on a gun control package that will initially focus on three issues: expanded background checks for the purchase of firearms, harsher penalties for gun trafficking, and increased aid for school safety. "The hard work starts now," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) after the vote.
The vote was a defeat for the 29 Republicans and two Democrats who were intent on filibustering the bill, arguing that the restrictions would would constitute a violation of the Second Amendment. "This bill is a clear overreach that will predominantly punish and harass our neighbors, friends, and family," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) prior to the vote. Despite their defeat, gun control opponents were threatening to invoke a procedural rule that would force the Senate to wait 30 hours before beginning any consideration of amendments.
Whenever the debate actually begins, it is likely that the first amendment to be considered is the agreement reached Wednesday by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WVA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), scaling back the call for universal background checks contained in the current bill. The universal background checks were authored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). Sen. Reid expects to replace Schumer's efforts with the compromise.
Yet that tradeoff reveals part of the problem with the process, in that the bill the Senate is debating will be changing substantially as time goes on -- so much so, that many senators opposing yesterday's vote contended that what they are actually voting on remains a mystery. They further noted that while the Manchin-Toomey deal represents a compromise, it is Schumer's stricter provision that remains part of the bill. "Because the background-check measure is the centerpiece of this legislation it is critical that we know what is in the bill before we vote on it," Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), said in a statement. "The American people expect more and deserve better."
Currently, background checks are limited to transactions conducted by the nation's 55,000 licensed gun dealers. Gun control advocates insist that such a limitation allows too many sales to take place without checks, making it easier for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain firearms. The Manchin-Toomey plan would expand background checks to cover unlicensed dealers at gun shows, and all sales conducted on the Internet.
It would also expand some rights of gun owners, allowing those who have undergone a background check within the last five years to obtain a concealed-carry permit allowing them to buy guns in other states. It would also make it easier for hunters carrying guns to travel through states that prohibit such weapons, and allow active military members to purchase firearms in their home states. They are currently prohibited from making such purchases when they are stationed somewhere else.
Despite such concessions, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other Second Amendment supporters remain leery, saying the proposal is still too restrictive. "While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg's 'universal' background check agenda is a positive development, we have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows," the NRA said in a statement. "The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson."
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) took the argument one step further. On the Senate floor Wednesday, he warned that universal background checks could lead to a national gun registry that "would allow the federal government to surveil law-abiding citizens who exercise their Constitutional rights," further noting that the government has no business monitoring any exercise of those rights. "You see, the federal government has no business monitoring when or how often you go to church; what books and newspapers you read; who you vote for; your health conditions; what you eat for breakfast; and the details of your private life--including your lawful exercise of your rights protected by the Second Amendment and other provisions of the Bill of Rights," he explained.
Even though this compromise ostensibly waters down such checks, National Review's Charles Cook explains that gun control advocates will eventually demand more. "Within a few weeks of the bill’s passage, the eerie progressive silence that has marked this tortured process will be broken, and when it is, legions of prominent gun controllers will take to their feet in order to argue that it makes ‘no sense’ for there to be 'exemptions' to the almost universal background-check system," he warns.
His warning is too late with regard to some states. In New York, the state police initially forced "David," a 34-year-old college librarian, to turn in his guns after his pistol permit was suspended because he had taken anti-anxiety medication at some point in the past. The NY SAFE Act requires mental health professionals to inform the state when permit holders or would-be permit holders are "likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others." A day later, the state was forced to backtrack, when they discovered they had the wrong man. "Today, we all look like fools," said Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs.
"Fools" is putting it mildly. New York is not only forcing mental health professionals to be de facto agents of the state, it is making an utter mockery of the doctor-patient relationship, in which privacy ought to be the foremost concern. If such checks are implemented nationwide, a 2011 survey by Medco reveals that as many as one-in-five Americans, the number currently taking “mental-health-related medications,” could be affected. Furthermore, as the case in New York reveals, due process is hardly an impediment: David's guns were confiscated prior to a hearing. "Due process should come before the suspension," said David's attorney Jim Tresmond. "That's where due process comes in. Before your rights are taken, due process must occur. That's our constitutional right, not the reverse." David's guns remain in police custody until a judge removes the suspension.
In Washington, gun control advocates remain determined to push, as well as expand, their agenda. Harry Reid has promised to re-introduce the assault weapons ban, dropped from the bill last month, as well as a ban on high-capacity magazines. President Obama brought the families of the Newtown shooting victims from Connecticut to Washington, D.C. aboard Air Force One on Tuesday to help push the legislation. And Freshman Senator Christopher S. Murphy (D-CN) gave his first speech on the Senate floor on gun violence Wednesday, displaying large photos of some of the children killed in the massacre to emphasize his efforts.
Bringing Newtown family members to Washington did not sit well with some gun rights supporters. "See, I think it's so unfair of the administration to hurt these families, to make them think this has something to do with them when, in fact, it doesn't," Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) told the Huffington Post. He further contended that the families believe gun control is now a personal issue "because they've been told that by the president." Senator Ted Cruz accused the Obama administration of "really playing on emotions. What it is not focused on are actual policies that will stop violent crime," he added. The editorial board of Investors Business Daily, who decried the abuse of presidential power in bringing the Newtown families to the nation’s capital, wondered if Republicans can "now give Fast and Furious victims' families taxpayer-funded flights to Washington?"
It wouldn't matter if they could. The mainstream media chose to ignore that controversy. That would be the same mainstream media that has circled the wagons around gun control advocates, so much so that CNN has devoted two full days to pushing gun control legislation, even as Second Amendment supporters are ignored.
Yet whatever agreement the Senate reaches may all be for naught. The Republican-controlled House isn't likely to allow a more restrictive gun control package to pass, even though House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reiterated his intention to remain noncommittal prior to the Senate reaching an agreement. "It's one thing for [Manchin and Toomey] to come to some agreement. It doesn't substitute the will for the other 98 members," he told reporters.
Nonetheless, Joe Manchin expressed his hope that something would be accomplished. “Today is the start of a healthy debate that must end with the Senate and House, hopefully, passing these commonsense measures and the president signing it into law,” he said. “The event of Newtown, truly the events at Newton, changed us all. It changes our country, our communities, our town and it changed our hearts and minds.”
What hasn't changed is the reality that nothing being proposed would have stopped Adam Lanza. Thus, this latest effort is nothing more than an unseemly attempt to use a horrific tragedy as a springboard to infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans to bear arms. Therein lies the other fatal flaw in any gun control bill: only law-abiding people will be affected. Furthermore, those well-versed in the American left's template of using incrementalism to get what they want, understand that concessions made now will lead to demands for further, and far more onerous, concessions later.
In short, the Second Amendment is under assault. It remains to be seen if America is still a nation of laws, or one that can be manipulated into surrendering constitutional rights for the illusion of safety. Here's a video released yesterday showing a Chicago shopkeeper fighting off two armed assailants with a baseball bat. As you watch it, remember that Chicago has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation.
What's going on in this video is real life. What's going on in Washington is a farce: one hundred senators with armed security details are deciding how much more difficult they will make it for ordinary Americans to enjoy a similar measure of personal security. It doesn't get more hypocritical than that.
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