Before I criticize the lack of action on the part of the U.S. Senate on modest gun measures last week, I will freely admit that the Virginia General Assembly is clearly in the clutches of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The last several years have seen a steady decline in Virginia’s attempt to reduce gun violence but without my support or vote. Most recently the General Assembly repealed the limitation on handgun purchases. The problem of gun violence is nationwide and appropriately should be addressed by the U.S. Congress. Opinion polls indicate overwhelming support for congressional action, especially as it relates to criminal background checks. At the same time, incidents involving gun violence continue to mount up.
With the strongest push by a president that has ever been seen on this issue, the U.S. Senate could not bring itself to act. Senator Tim Kaine, who has shown himself to be such a strong leader on this issue, spoke on the Senate floor last week on the sixth anniversary of the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech. He told the story of Professor Livin Librescu, who barricaded a classroom door with his body so that his students could escape to safety. While Professor Librescu had to be remarkably brave to do what he did, Senator Kaine told the senators they only needed to be brave enough to cast the right vote. To hear the senator’s strong speech, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kf0sY2yYc5k.
In the end, the compromise bill to require checks for online sales and sales at gun shows, but not sales between neighbors and family members, failed by a vote of 54-46 with Senators Kaine and Warner voting for it. Senator Warner expressed his disappointment that the Senate “could not reach 60 votes for the reasonable, bipartisan legislation to strengthen background checks … while also upholding Second Amendment rights.” On the most controversial amendment to the bill, offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein to renew and strengthen a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, Senator Kaine voted in favor of it and Senator Warner voted no as they did respectively on limiting magazine sizes to 10 rounds. Senator Warner’s statement did not address these votes.
The votes were extremely disappointing to everyone, including the president, who denounced the inaction of the Senate in the harshest of terms, the thousands of Americans who lobbied very hard for the bill’s passage, and the local residents who have been so active in the Reston-Herndon Citizens Against Gun Violence.
The president said that the work must go on to pass the legislation or change the members of Congress. It was former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who felt the trauma of gun violence so personally who summed it up best when she said that “Senators say they fear the NRA and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. … Mark my words: If we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s.”
Senators fell short of Senator Kaine’s plea that they be brave enough to cast the right vote. It’s time that we take back the Congress from the clutches of the NRA! And that means we take back some Senate seats!