86 percent of Americans are in favor of expanded background checks on guns. But on Wednesday, the Senate failed to pass a bipartisan plan by a vote of 54-46, just six short of the votes needed to clear the chamber.
Four Democrats voted against the plan. Three – Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — are from red states and up for re-election. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota is not up for re-election but still voted against the bill, even after White House chief of staff Denis McDonough visited her on Tuesday.
After the bill was blocked, Patricia Maisch, who survived the 2011 Arizona shootings that killed six and severely injured former Rep. Gabby Giffords, shouted “shame on you!” from the Senate gallery. The mother of one of those killed, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, expressed shock, saying “I’m very disappointed. It should just be common sense. We’ll all be back; we’re going to keep fighting.”
A “visibly angry” President Obama, who had put his every effort behind the issue, was swift to condemn the Senate, saying that ”this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.” In a speech afterwards at the Rose Garden, the President did not hold back from speaking out against the NRA and other groups who had “lied” and offered “no coherent arguments” against the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment. Beside him stood Giffords as well as the parents of children killed in the shootings in Newtown.
Arguing that the proposal violated the rights of Americans to bear arms, gun rights groups including the NRA had vowed to defeat any senator who voted for it. NRA official Chris Cox spoke of how the amendment “would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens.” Cox also asserted that “expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools.”
That is what the NRA and gun rights supporters think. It is the narrative that “violence is best addressed with violence” that helped to defeat the proposal to expand background checks.
But the reality is that 26 people, most young children, died at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December; that a female politician’s political career has been stopped in its tracks; that a 4-year-old killed a 6-year-old last week in New Jersey. The reality is that guns kill — and we, therefore, need far tighter gun laws.
In his speech after the defeat of the bill, Obama stated that “this effort is not over.” Clearly there is a very uphill and ugly fight ahead for him and all those who support far more stringent gun control rules. One look at the faces of the parents from Newtown reminds us why we’re more than ready for a long, long effort to create such laws.