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President Obama’s reaction to the failure of the “compromise amendment” on background checks for gun sales was one of the first glimpses of anger we’ve actually seen from him in his two terms in office. And it was for good reason; the compromise amendment should have passed in the Senate. With flying colors.
In case you missed it, this “compromise amendment” was a bipartisan measure that would have required background checks for the sale of guns at gun shows and in online transactions. This requirement really isn’t anything new; background checks are already required when purchasing a gun from a sporting goods store or a local Wal-Mart. The process is simple: When purchasing a gun, the store is required to run the buyer’s name through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a network of several federal databases that check criminal records.
The process itself takes, at most, a few minutes.
The proposed amendment — brought to the table by two senators, democrat Joe Manchin and republican Pat Toomey — was intended to merely cover the loopholes, requiring all transactions involving the purchasing of guns — both public and private — to include this simple check.
This amendment was surprisingly moderate and had nothing to do with removing assault weapons from circulation. It truly was a bipartisan idea, meant only to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. And in a poll conducted by both the Washington Post and ABC News, nine out of 10 Americans supported it.
It’s important to note that in addition to the more than 90 percent of Americans in support of universal background checks, 91 percent of all gun-owning households and 85 percent of households with members of the National Rifle Association also supported the compromise.
On April 17, 2013, the Senate held a vote. The amendment needed only 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, but it fell short with 54 votes. This means that 46 United States senators voted against compromise, a compromise designed not to strip us of our rights or remove assault weapons from the market, but to help ensure that trustworthy and responsible individuals are able to obtain deadly weapons.
So why, if 90 percent of Americans were united in supporting universal background checks, did the compromise amendment fail?
There are some truly disappointing answers here, but perhaps most obvious is the NRA’s influence on politicians and interference with their political duty.
In Iowa, a state which has historically focused very little on the regulation of guns and prevention of gun violence — and which has typically been against arms regulation of any kind — a whopping 88 percent of the population agreed on the need for universal background checks. That means that almost nine out of every 10 people, according to the Des Moines Register, feel that background checks are completely necessary.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, however, chose to vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment on April 17. Perhaps it’s important to mention that Senator Grassley received over $78,000 in donations and independent expenditures from the NRA in his 2010 election, the third-highest amount of any NRA funding recipient in the country. But while Grassley might receive a top rating from the NRA, he should have been working for an ‘A’ rating from his constituents rather than a special-interest bully.
“Ultimately, you outnumber those who argued the other way,” said President Obama, in his blatantly disgusted response to the decision from the White House Rose Garden. “But they’re better organized. They’re better financed. They’ve been at it longer. … So to change Washington, you, the American people, are going to have to sustain some passion about this. And, when necessary, you’ve got to send the right people to Washington.”
Perhaps this is what we, the American people, must take away from the disappointing decision of April 17. We, the 90 percent of Americans who voted to make a change in our country, to make it safer, and to honor the victims of gun violence, need to be vocal about the inaction of our government.
Requiring universal background checks might have been a very small action to take in the memory of Newtown and the thousands of other deaths caused by gun violence in this country, but at least we were able to reach a proposal that offered compromise. How dare we let a special interest group infiltrate our political system and influence our politicians? How dare we let them muffle our united voices?
We must tell our congress members how we feel — and be as vocal in our support of universal background checks as those 10 percent in loud opposition. We must come together to show the NRA and other special interest groups that the voices of 90 percent of Americans cannot be ignored — and that we are not giving up yet; in fact, advocates for universal background checks are regrouping and continuing to draft legislation with the potential to make our country safer. Organizing For Action, for example, is working at the grassroots level to encourage new compromise, along with both democrats and republicans who supported the compromise amendment.
Our job is to not only support new background check legislation, but advocate for it, by calling, tweeting, and petitioning our congressmen. This is not over yet. We must make our voices heard.