Most Americans support background checks – so why don’t most Senators?

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March 29, 2013 by Nash Riggins

Remember that debate we were all having about gun control? It kind of fell off the map after we almost hit that fiscal cliff – and then it fell even further when we did hit that sequester. But now that Congress has bitterly slashed its monumental budget, some lawmakers are daring to bring the issue of gun control back to the forefront of American politics. They may find themselves disappointed.

According to Pew Research, 50% of Americans think that controlling gun ownership is one of the most important issues in the United States. That being said, it seems gun control lobbyists are even struggling to win over moderate Democrats in their fight to see a bill passed in the Senate next month that would widely expand background checks for individuals purchasing firearms. A pretty bad sign, given that the issue of gun control is typically generalised to be a priority amongst Democrats alone.

In all, there are currently 7 Democratic Senators serving in Congress that are tip-toeing around the issue of gun control at their great risk. After all, not only are 6 of those blue-blooded Senators from Republican-leaning or closely divided states, but they’re also up for reelection. Accordingly, said Senators aren’t about to declare support for anything that might risk their shaky chances at holding on to power. It is for this reason that Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina has voiced support for expanded background checks, but said that she couldn’t promise to vote in its favour until she saw the bill’s final wording – whilst Senator Mark Warner of Virginia hesitantly said that he’s “still holding conversations with Virginia stakeholders and sorting through issues on background checks.” Really?

Divided state or not, it’s hard to believe that the people of Virginia or North Carolina are that hesitant to keep guns away from crooks. Yet on the other hand, it must be taken into consideration that the hesitancy of Senators Hagan and Warner very well may boil down to the feelings of voters (rather than the more likely irrational phobia of the NRA). Subsequently, even the most ardent gun control advocate must respect the fact that party lines must never be allowed to eclipse the commitments individual Senators have made to their constituencies. After all, Congressmen are voted to power by the people they represent, not the party they serve.

For example, Democratic Senator Mark Begich of Alaska has repeatedly told campaigners that his voters are adamant about retaining their individual gun rights, whilst he claims that very few Alaskans have expressed a desire to implement more gun laws. Whether or not Mr Begich supports gun control legislature, he consequently has a moral obligation to vote on any such measures based upon the wants and needs of his individual state. Ah, the pitfalls of representative democracy.

Yet if this week’s demonstrations by gun control advocates fail to sway the opinions of moderate state Senators, there’s a pretty good chance that the upcoming bill to expand background checks on aspiring gun owners will fail to pass.

At present, Republicans appear dead-set on ensuring that this new gun control measure will not pass without earning 60 of the Senate’s 100 votes – and there are only 53 Democrats and 2 independents who have thus far expressed their desire to see the bill pass. Consequently, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has already effectively given up the bill for dead. But how does that add up?

In an AP poll conducted earlier this year, 84% of Americans said they supported expanding background checks to include gun show sales – whilst universal background checks have received similar support in other national polls. If these polls are indeed accurate, one can’t help but wonder: why might the measure risk not passing in Congress?

Just as Senators have a responsibility to vote against gun control measures that the majority of their constituency reject, they also have a responsibility to vote in favour of gun control measures that the people of their state support – personal feelings and gun cabinets aside. Perhaps the wording of the Senate’s upcoming gun bill does indeed need some hammering out; however, all signs indicate that the majority of Americans approve of the general idea behind the bill. If Senators fail to draft a bipartisan bill that expands background checks – at the very least – to include gun show sales, it should be duly noted that not only are they rejecting the will of the American public, but they are no longer acting on behalf of their voters.

If Senator Mark Begich of Alaska hasn’t heard from a single Alaskan who wants better background checks for prospective gun buyers – that’s fine. But if other Senators are simply ignoring popular opinion in their own state for fear of the NRA’s wraith, that’s another matter entirely. Law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear from expanding background checks – only criminals do; therefore, it should say a lot about the American people and those who represent them if this bill fails to pass. Chances are, it won’t say anything nice.

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