If Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had somehow managed to evade capture and had traveled to a gun show in, say, neighboring Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, he would've been able to easily purchase one or more military-style assault weapons without a background check thanks in part to the efforts of senators like Lindsey Graham, who voted to filibuster the Toomey/Manchin amendment by order of the extremists at the National Rifle Association last week. You know, because of the Constitution. Yet Graham is more than happy to indulge his own hysterical blindness by escalating the war on terrorism to include American citizens on American soil and all non-Al Qaeda terrorists, thus expanding the mandates of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force and further enabling an endless war with accompanying endless war powers. Constitution be damned.
But regarding the successful filibuster of the Toomney/Manchin accord, I can't think of another display of mutual indulgence between Congress and a special interest group that comes close to registering on the outrage meter when compared with the failure of the background checks amendment in the Senate last Wednesday.
If we were unsure about this before, it ought to be abundantly clear today that the propagandists at the NRA wield staggering levels of power over the most exclusive lawmaking body in the world. The NRA owns the Senate. Sure, only 46 senators ultimately voted against extending background checks, but the fact that this relatively innocuous measure was the only gun control amendment that had a chance of passing indicates a broader epidemic of subservience to the gun lobby.
The Toomey/Manchin amendment would've merely expanded the background check system that's already in place to include gun shows and Internet sales -- two major loopholes that allow potential criminals and extremist groups to attain assault rifles and other firearms completely under the radar. Closing these loopholes should've been a no-brainer and approved by an overwhelming majority of the Senate, not haggled, belabored and filibustered as if it was a new and unusual trespass against liberty and American values.
- Washington Post-ABC News poll, April 11-14, 2013: "Would you support or oppose a law requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows or online?" Support: 86 percent. Oppose: 13 percent.
- CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, April 5-7, 2013: "Some proposals would require a background check on anyone attempting to purchase a gun in order to determine whether the prospective buyer has been convicted of a felony or has a mental health problem. Please tell me whether you would favor or oppose a background check for a prospective gun buyer under each of the following circumstances. ... If the buyer is trying to purchase a gun at a gun show." Favor: 83 percent. Oppose: 17 percent.
- Quinnipiac University poll, March 26-April 1, 2013. "Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?" Support: 91 percent. Oppose: 8 percent.
- CBS News poll, March 20-24, 2013. "Would you favor or oppose background checks on all potential gun buyers?" Favor: 90 percent. Oppose: 8 percent.
Clearly 90 percent popular support only attracts the attention of 54 percent of the Senate when it's being puppeteered by a major wing of the Death-For-Profit Club.
Yet even Democrats like Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) vigorously opposed the expansion of background checks (see the video below) and voted against the amendment, in spite of the fact that it was supported by 94 percent of her home state. Toss in nearly the entire Republican caucus, and the demands of one lobbying group took significant precedent over what you supported. More damning than that, 74 percent of NRA members supported the expansion of background checks, along with 87 percent of gun owners, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz. That's not an insignificant observation. Who exactly does the NRA represent: its card-carrying members who were mostly in favor of expanding background checks or the gun manufacturers who thrive on being able to easily sell their machines of death? And therefore is the NRA really about protecting the constitutional rights of its members, or protecting the corporate profitability of the gun industry? I think we know the answer.
The NRA's radical, corporatist agenda was even too extreme for one of its most prominent members. Adolphus Busch IV, heir to the Busch beer fortune, resigned from his lifetime membership in the organization due to the NRA's position on background checks.
In his resignation letter, Busch wrote, "One only has to look at the makeup of the 75-member board of directors, dominated by manufacturing interests, to confirm my point. The NRA appears to have evolved into the lobby for gun and ammunition manufacturers rather than gun owners."
What's become abundantly clear this week is that in order to pass real gun legislation, gun control activists have to completely overwhelm the NRA and its apparatchiks with a powerful, fearless message, extraordinary spending and constant, hyper-tenacious pressure. Without it, the gun control effort at the federal level will continue to be an exercise in humiliation and futility, failing to pass even the most innocuous and reasonable gun laws. If a serious effort isn't possible, or if enough of the people who support new gun laws don't participate in the process, the NRA will expand into the void -- gaining enough strength to crush even some of the promising state-level legislation in the works, while further expanding its dangerous brand of bumper-sticker extremism.
Patricia Maisch, one of the heroes of Tucson who helped to disarm Jared Loughner, was kicked out the Senate chambers after the NRA's puppets successfully filibustered the background checks amendment. She was kicked out because she shouted "shame on you" at the senators who filibustered the will of the people. And she was right. I can't think of a more shame-worthy moment in recent Senate history.
And, just a reminder, the next "enemy combatant" -- the next Tsarnaev or Lanza or Loughner can still buy a stockpile of firearms and ammunition at a gun show or online without a background check.