Let me begin this column with an apology. Once a week, I pick an important issue and offer my reasoned analysis, based on the facts, of what it all means and how we should react. But there are times when the intellect fails and the heart and gut take over. And this is one of them.
In the spring of 1968, I walked into the McCarthy for President office in San Francisco and signed up as a volunteer. That was my first taste of politics and I’ve been involved in politics ever since, both as practitioner and observer. I’ve managed local, statewide and national campaigns, raised money for candidates, served as Democratic state chair of California and run for statewide office. I’ve made my living as a political commentator on radio and television in Los Angeles, San Francisco and nationwide.
Throughout those years, I’ve experienced a lot of joy, but also a lot of disappointment. Candidates I supported lost their elections. Politicians I helped elect soon forgot who their friends were. Causes I passionately believed in failed in the legislature or on the ballot. Yet, through it all, I never lost my faith in the political system. I always knew, and preached, that things would eventually work out for the best. I remained a believer.
Until now. Until this week’s shameful vote in the United States Senate on gun safety. I’m no longer a believer. I’ve lost my faith in our political system. I’ve given up on politics. And I’ve given up on Congress. Because if they can’t get this right, they can’t get anything right.
There is simply no excuse – none! – for voting against extending criminal background checks to cover all gun purchases. Indeed, the arguments made by opponents of the Manchin-Toomey compromise bill don’t even pass the laugh test. How, for example, can anybody say he supports background checks at gun dealers, just not at gun shows? Really? In other words, it’s not OK for criminals to buy guns at licensed dealers, but it is OK for them to buy guns at gun shows or over the Internet. Give me a break.
In the biggest lie of all, other senators insist that expanded background checks will lead to some Big Brother gun registry that will in turn lead to federal agents seizing everyone’s guns. Baloney. Again, no such gun registry has been created to date, even though criminal background checks have been required of gun dealers since 1994. Not only that, both existing law and the Manchin-Toomey bill specifically prohibit storage and retrieval of personal data gathered in background checks. Manchin and Toomey make it a federal crime.
In the end, there are only three reasons why senators voted against common sense gun safety measures. One, they were born without a backbone. Two, they’re owned lock, stock and barrel by the NRA. Three, they don’t care. They don’t care about the American people. They don’t care about the victims of Columbine, Aurora or Virginia Tech. They don’t care about Gabby Giffords. They don’t care about 20 first-graders and six brave teachers from Sandy Hook Elementary School. They don’t care about doing the right thing. They only care about saving their own political skin.
In the end, the vote on the compromise proposal to expand background checks was 54-46, six short of the 60 votes necessary to break the filibuster. Democrats share some of the blame. Four Democrats – Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – voted no. But most of the blame lies with the Republican Party. Even though four of them – John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mark Kirk of Illinois – broke ranks and voted yes, Republicans as a block voted against background checks. In fact, Buzzfeed reports, six Republicans – Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, Richard Shelby, Mike Crapo and Chuck Grassley – who voted for universal background checks in 1999, when the NRA supported them, voted against background checks this week, now that the NRA opposes them.
As Wednesday’s vote was announced, the cry of “Shame on you!” resounded from the Senate gallery. It was the voice of Tucson hero Patricia Maisch, who grabbed a loaded magazine clip out of Jared Loughner’s hands as he tried to reload. In that dramatic moment, she showed more sense and courage than the entire Senate. We might as well send them all home.