Today at 4pm ET, the senators are expected to vote on a gun control background check bill that would expand background checks to more gun purchasers, increase aid for school safety and strengthen existing gun trafficking laws. One would think that an issue that has the support of nearly 90% of the American people would sail through congress as rapidly as, say, the recent measure to protect representatives from having to reveal that their stock trades benefit from insider trading information but, alas, that’s politics.
The current version of the bill is significantly watered down; no longer is the background check a truly universal exercise in data gathering on criminals — it doesn’t delve as deeply as even many prospective employment inquiries would. But, even in its weakened state, the bipartisan duo of Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) can’t seem to get beyond 52 votes. The 40 ‘nay’ voters are Republican senators; the 52 ‘yes’ votes include 3 GOPers who have broken ranks with their party. The 8 undecideds include 6 Democrats; Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Max Baucus of Montana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are in ‘red states’ and, it will be noted by the citizens of their respective states, Baucus and Landrieu face re-election next year.
Republican senator John McCain (R-AZ) has a real opportunity to lead on this issue and draw power away from the too-powerful National Rifle Association lobby. As one of the undecideds — and as a senator from the same state in which his colleague, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot — it would be a feather in his tarnished cap to do the right thing for not just the people of his state but to make up for the other senator, Jeff Flake, who surprised many when he announced on his Facebook page that he will vote against it. He said, in part:
“Manchin-Toomey would expand background checks far beyond commercial sales to include almost all private transfers – including between friends and neighbors — if the posting or display of the ad for a firearm was made public. It would likely even extend to message boards, like the one in an office kitchen. This simply goes too far.”
He went on to say, “I support background checks. In fact, I believe background checks need to be strengthened, particularly as they relate to those with mental illness,” indicating that he believes that there is a workable compromise — but one that will not be in the form of the Toomey-Manchin proposal.
The party of Democrats is a big tent with many divergent opinions, and some of us will watch carefully when the Democrats who oppose an issue such as this — one supported with the widest of margins — face re-election, even in areas dominated by conservative voters who themselves support background checks. Former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Giffords, has already made it clear that he will seek someone to run against Jeff Flake during Flake’s next election bid, and it’s all but certain that the 6 Democrats who are afraid to support the legislation will face opposition as well.
That’s politics, right? Stay tuned for the vote.