On Tuesday 45 senators — mostly Republicans, but some Democrats — made cynical political calculations by choosing to protect the NRA gun merchants over America’s children, betraying the families of Newtown, CT, and the nation in their failure to pass stronger gun laws.
It was expected that the right-wing Republicans in the Senate would reflexively vote against any common-sense gun safety measures. Only slightly more surprising was the cowardice of the four red-state Democrats who voted against expanding gun background checks — senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Mark Pryor (D-AR). But at least Baucus, Heitkamp, and Pryor are keeping a low profile as they face the angry 92 percent of Americans whose demands for universal background checks went ignored.
Begich, however, spoke up with a pathetic excuse for voting against background checks. He told The New York Times that “it’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment. Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.”
Never mind that it has been four months since Newtown. Never mind that poll after poll after poll shows a majority of Americans, including gun owners and NRA members, support universal background checks. Never mind that Vice President Joe Biden put together a task force that convened 22 meetings with law enforcement professionals and gun safety experts and collected ideas from 229 organizations, concluding that universal background checks would reduce gun violence.
And in a conference call with donors on Thursday, Begich explained that he voted yes on the rejected Grassley-Cruz alternative amendment — which was thrown together and introduced at the last minute — because it had a better chance of passing the House than Manchin-Toomey, even though Grassley-Cruz did nothing to expand background checks, and in fact included pro-gun measures such as allowing interstate firearms sales and interstate transportation of firearms that would undermine existing state laws. Grassley-Cruz also would have made it easier for mentally ill people to obtain guns.
And besides Grassley-Cruz, did Begich say anything about making an emotional policy decision when on Wednesday he voted yes on the Cornyn amendment that would have allowed “concealed carry reciprocity”? The NRA-backed bill would make it legal for someone with a gun permit from a state with weak gun laws that allows concealed carry, like Arkansas, to carry that concealed weapon across state lines to a state with tough gun laws, like New York.
That must have been a completely rational, well-researched decision.
Amazingly, although the Senate rejected the Cornyn amendment, the measure received 57 votes, which is three more votes than the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill received. Think about that — a bill to loosen gun laws received more votes than expanding background checks. That was the Senate’s response to Newtown.
To Begich, expanding background checks is a dangerous policy driven by human emotion, but allowing any yahoo with a concealed-carry permit to walk around Times Square or Hollywood is just common sense.