US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Three key failures from the Senate gun control vote

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school last December in Newtown, Connecticut claimed the lives of twenty children, it seemed that most of the nation agreed: We need to do something about gun control. While there was plenty up for debate about the best way to go about this, more than 90 percent of Americans agreed that universal background checks should be required for every gun purchase.

Yesterday, the bipartisan bill brought forth by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) was blocked in the Senate, falling six votes short of the number required to prevent a filibuster. Though it might not have been a perfect bill (as evidenced partly by the fact that the bill ended up as the opening-sketch parody on last weekend's Saturday Night Live), this was still an utter failure for three key reasons.  

  1. We failed to put a measure in place to control access to guns. Newtown had appeared to be a possible “final straw” in tragedy after tragedy involving mass shootings, not to mention in addition to the gun violence that plagues everyday life in many cities. Families of Newtown victims lobbied the Senate to pass the bill. These people are the people that this has let down. And we put more people at risk the longer that we don't have this legislation.
  2. We failed at bipartisanship and compromise. Only four republicans voted for this bill, and several democrats from red states who are up for reelection voted against it. Rather than coming together and recognizing a crucial need, our leaders caved to fear. While it sounds juvenile in today's political climate to say that we all just need to get along and work together, it seems even more juvenile to dig in your heels and refuse to budge when you haven't gotten everything you want. The point of a compromise is that neither side has gotten all its demands, but have reached an agreement that works out as best as possible.
  3. We failed at representative democracy. 90 percent of Americans favored universal background checks. In a time where it seems that every issue splits essentially 50-50, the people of our country spoke loud and clear. It's the purpose of a representative government to vote for what the people want. It's clearly impossible in a polarized country to please everyone, but this was not a polarizing issue.

Today in the New York Times, former Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords—herself the victim of a shooting which forced her to resign from office—holds nothing back in a scathing criticism of the Senate. Says Giffords:

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association.… Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe.

Church leadership has also been crystal clear on this issue: As Catholics who respect life, we must work in favor of gun control. To be pro-life is to support gun control; to support gun control is to be pro-life. We can hope that perhaps a new, more effective bill will be put forth that might be better than what this first bill might have done. But any legislation that tries to keep people safe by controlling guns is going to require working together to achieve the best possible solution, and it’s going to require that more voices are heard beyond those belonging to the gun lobby.

Giffords indicated she was not done fighting; I’m sure parents of the children lost in Newtown won’t be giving up anytime soon on trying to prevent what happened to them from happening to anyone else. What will it finally take? Will it take another tragedy? How many more people are going to die in daily gun violence? Will we be remembered as a soulless, compassionless people or a people who rallied and overcame differences to make sure that in the end we did everything possible to keep people safe?

Flickr photo cc by katieharbath