You might have thought that the mangled bodies of 20 dead children would have been enough to overcome the crazed obsessions of the gun lobby.
You might have believed that the courage and exhortations of a former congresswoman — her career cut short and her life forever changed by a would-be assassin’s bullet — would have pushed Congress to do the right thing.
You might have reasoned that polls showing overwhelming public support for a sensible gun control measure would have persuaded politicians to take a modest step toward preventing more massacres.
You would have been wrong. Last week, the U.S. Senate sent a stark message to the citizens it is elected to represent: We couldn’t care less about what you want.
Fifteen years of highly publicized mass murders carried out by madmen with firearms — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Aurora, to name just a few — have changed nothing. Newtown, where 26 people, including 20 young children, were mowed down by a man armed with an assault-type weapon and high-capacity magazines for his ammo, provoked little more than a ripple in the corridors of Washington, where the National Rifle Association and its like-minded lobbies carried the day.
The grip that the gun lobby maintains on Congress is hard to explain. The National Rifle Association has persuaded spineless politicians that it is an omnipotent election god, able to strike down those who don’t cower before it. That’s simply not true, but even if it were, aren’t some principles worth losing elections over?
The proposal that appeared to have the best chance of passage last week was modest enough. It would simply have expanded criminal background checks to include guns sold at gun shows and via the Internet, a step supported by 90 percent of Americans, according to polls.
As its proponents conceded, it would not have stopped the Newtown atrocity. Adam Lanza took his mother’s legally purchased weapons to kill her, to carry out a massacre and to then commit suicide.
But expanded background checks would certainly save other lives, since violent husbands and other criminals have been able to saunter through huge holes in the system to purchase guns. Speaking with justifiable anger after the background-check measure went down to defeat, President Obama noted, “… if action by Congress could have saved one person, one child, a few hundred, a few thousand … we had an obligation to try.”
In an exhaustive report last week about online purchases of firearms, The New York Times showed clearly why expanded background checks are needed. As the newspaper noted, websites for firearms function as “unregulated bazaars” where sellers offer prospective buyers the following assurance: “no questions asked.” Reporters found persons with criminal records buying and selling guns.