“This was a pretty shameful day in Washington,” President Obama so insightfully pointed out earlier this month, after another failed attempt to pass a bill in favor of background checks for all gun purchases. I figured the President would be used to shameful days by now. After all, shameful days in Congress are more common than two-dollar boba on Ring Road.
It really is a pity that the Manchin-Toomey Amendment, the bi-partisan compromise that closed loopholes in current background checks, was shot down in the Senate, the one house it actually had a chance in. Current gun legislation requires background checks when a gun is purchased at a public gun retailer. When a gun is purchased, the retailer checks the consumer against a federal database that identifies people with a criminal record or mental illness to whom retailers cannot sell guns.
This leaves private retailers free of transaction restrictions and makes intrastate gun sales far too easy. The clientele that private retailers attract probably aren’t too thrilled at the prospect of background checks, and turn to private retailers. In order to close this alternative method of purchasing guns, the Manchin-Toomey amendment requires private and Internet retailers — along with gun shows — to also perform a background check on consumers before selling them guns. The bill merely wants to make sure you don’t have a criminal record before you are legally sold a gun with which you can inflict extreme bodily harm on other citizens.
But that’s only the first part of the “controversial” bill — in order for the background checks to work, states would need to provide the government with information on criminals and people with certain mental illnesses, who are not allowed to purchase guns.
But a gun-control bill isn’t complete without some kind of opinion from the NRA. The NRA, the National Rifle Association, is the largest gun rights lobbying group in Washington. As soon as this bill was introduced, they were quick to jump to what they are best at, sticking to their guns. They successfully bullied enough members of Congress to vote against the bill with the looming threat of losing the support of one of the most powerful lobbyist groups in the country.
No one is taking away anyone’s guns, or, NRA forbid, not letting you buy any more. Opposition is based on a slippery slope argument. First the government mandates background checks, then they create a gun registry, then our Second Amendment rights will be gone, and before we know it Big Brother will be coming after our guns altogether.
I must concede one point to the NRA, though. Opposition for the bill stems from the idea that this bill won’t be effective in curbing gun-related violence. Which is true. This bill isn’t going to solve our gun-related problems. Yes, it will get rid of the loophole and will make it harder for people with a criminal record to legally buy guns. Yes, people will then turn to the black market to acquire guns. But that doesn’t mean we don’t pass the bill.
The bill should have passed for reasons other than its ability to solve the violence plaguing our nation, a problem that cannot be solved by legislation. This bill should have passed because it was the first bipartisan bill that that proposed a realistic regulation to improve the current gun regulation. Asking people to comply to a background check through all legal means of purchasing a gun doesn’t seem like too ridiculous of a request. And until the day the government does start taking away our guns, the NRA has no legitimate reason to argue against gun legislation with the justification of a series of unlikely events.
Congress owes it to the victims of Newtown, Aurora and all the other towns that have suffered from gun-related atrocities to pass this bill. How many tragedies will it take for members of Congress to stand up to the playground bully and understand that proper steps need to be taken for the safety of our nation? They owe it to the victims to take a step in the right direction. The Manchin-Toomey amendment was a step in the right direction that was thwarted because of completely unjustified fears.
Aliza Asad is a first-year international studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org