PITTSFIELD >> If Americans still think they live in a country ruled by a representative government with majority rule, they should think again, especially in view of the US Senate's political dog and pony show this week about regulating guns.
I am certain that no one in Congress wants anyone, terrorists or not, bent on committing mass murder to be able to purchase civilian model, military-like assault rifles. I am equally certain that no American wants to be in the line of fire of such a shooter in places where the public gathers. Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal said that the purpose of such weapons is to inflict "devastating" harm on enemy combatants and should be banned for use by civilians. These weapons have turned the gun violence problem from a lone gunman with a six shooter committing murder into a problem of rapid, mass murder by a lone shooter.
So now, after a series of mass murders by lone shooters armed with such firearms — from Adam Lanza (26 victims in a Connecticut school), James E. Holmes (12 people in a Colorado theater), Jacobs Roberts (2 people and himself in Oregon), to Omar Mateen (49 dead victims in a Florida nightclub) — the Senate decided to put on a show for the public.
Appearance of action
The show began with a sincere effort by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, in light of the Orlando shooting, to force the Senate into action. He has been a lawmaker on a mission for gun regulation since the Newtown school massacre in his district. Murphy began a filibuster which attracted the nation's attention. This put public pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. R-Ky. to do something.
But he had another problem which was the close political alliance between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and GOP politicians. A number of Democrats also were part of this alliance, but not now on the issue of gun regulation.
The NRA, about four decades ago, became a strong, special interest group with an aggressive agenda to keep Congress from taking action on any gun regulation. According to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the greatest NRA achievement was "congressional silence on guns." It accomplished this with a national program that activated its most ardent members to swarm their elected officials and to vote on election day.
The CPI also noted that the NRA, its allies in the business of gun manufacturing and such organizations as the Gun Owners of America, together have generated nearly $86 million for use in congressional and presidential races since the 2000 election cycle. This resulted in a demonstrated ability by this group to elect and defeat officeholders. The NRA reportedly has some $14 million to spend in the 2016 election cycle. This is why the NRA holds sway over the GOP majority in the Senate.
McConnell and NRA executive director Chris Cox have framed the issue as being about terrorists linked to foreign groups and not about guns. McConnell said the best way to prevent these "attacks" is to defeat such groups overseas. Cox vowed to target congressmen trying to divert attention away from the underlying problem, meaning these foreign groups.
But not all these shooters, including Lanza, Holmes and Roberts, had ties with foreign groups. Also there is the glaring issue of the ease with which the firearms used to facilitate these mass murders can be acquired and the fundamental issue of whether civilians should be allowed to acquire such weapons.
McConnell made sure that the ending would be in line with the NRA's absolute position of "congressional silence on guns." He allowed a vote on basically the same two measures that failed to pass in the Senate last December in the wake of the San Bernardino gun massacre.
This time there were four bills. The two Democratic measures called for banning gun sales to individuals on a list of known or suspected terrorists of about one million with fewer than 5,000 Americans on it, closing loopholes for gun sales, and enhancing background checks. The two Republican measures were essentially about the same matters, but with differing approaches such as burdening the government with an impracticable period of three days to convince a judge that the prospective gun buyer belonged on the list.
I am sure that McConnell counted the votes and knew in advance that there would not be enough of them for the required supermajority, under Senate rules, of 60 votes for these measures to go forward. And they did not. The Senate show was nothing more than the showcasing of the prearranged defeat of the four bills.
McConnell blamed the Democrats for the inaction by using the Senate vote to simply push their partisan agenda and for crafting political ads for the upcoming election. Cox called it an "embarrassing display" of politics by the Democrats who let the safety of Americans take a backseat to political "theater."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the actions by the Republican majority were meaningless, a "Hey, we tried" effort while "their cheerleaders, the bosses at the NRA" were celebrating.
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz is a regular Eagle contributor.