ROBINSON: Denying a vote to victims of gun violence
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.
In his State of the Union address, President
Reid obviously disagrees. The Senate majority leader decided Tuesday to abandon a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein
“I'm not going to try to put something on the floor that won't succeed,” Reid said. “I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there.”
We all know what's happening here. Senate Democrats face a tough battle next year to hold on to their slim majority. Going on record in support of legislation that the gun lobby so vehemently opposes could cost some vulnerable incumbents their seats — and potentially make Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader.
Reid said he could muster barely 40 votes for Feinstein's weapons ban. Even if all 53 members of the Democratic caucus supported it, the measure would still fall short of the 60 votes needed to break an anticipated GOP filibuster. And in the event that the measure somehow made it out of the Senate, it would be dead on arrival in the House.
It is true that prospects are brighter for other proposals on gun violence. The most important is expanding and toughening the current system of background checks for gun buyers. Despite the National Rifle Association's opposition, sentiment for universal background checks — covering not just dealers but also ostensibly “private” sales at gun shows — seems close to a consensus.
I don't mean to downplay the significance of background checks, which could save lives by keeping guns out of the wrong hands. But let's not fool ourselves: The biggest factor in gun violence is the gun. Until we begin to deal with the weapons themselves, we are working at the margins.
Despite what the NRA wants us to believe, guns do kill people. Yes, mental health is a serious issue. Yes, the violence in movies and video games is shocking. But these other factors do not begin to explain why there is so much more gun violence in the United States than in other industrialized countries.
Surely there are disturbed young men in Britain who are watching violent movies or playing violent video games at this very moment — just like their American counterparts. Yet the U.S. death rate from gun violence is 40 times higher than the British rate. Why? What could make such a huge difference? The biggest factor has to be that British law makes it hard to buy a gun and U.S. law makes it easy.
Blame Congress for not imposing reasonable controls on instruments of death that too often turn petty arguments into tragedies — and that allow disturbed individuals to turn their most warped fantasies into reality.
Reid and his colleagues in the Senate are experts in political arithmetic. I'd love to hear them explain their calculations to the parents of Newtown.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for the Washington Post.
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