If GOP wants gun debate, why did they try to kill it?

April 16, 2013

Relax, America — we don’t have to worry about passing new laws to help curb gun deaths, including massacres in our schools, shopping malls and theaters. U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) says instead of being concerned about whether weapons sold at gun shows may fall into the hands of felons or the mentally ill, we should focus on our real problems: Violent video games and the media.

Wyoming’s other U.S. senator, Mike Enzi, signed a letter with 13 other GOP senators that said they would filibuster any attempts to pass additional restrictions on gun owners, because we supposedly have too many restrictions already. It turned out to be an empty threat, though, as the Senate last Thursday voted 68-31 to debate a bill offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). Eighteen Republicans broke ranks with the party to do the right thing and ensure there will be a vote on the measure in coming weeks. 

Kerry Drake

The vote should tell the public all it needs to know about the sincerity of Republicans when it comes to the gun controversy that reached epic proportions with the shooting deaths of 20 students and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., grade school last December.

In February, Barrasso told the Riverton Kiwanis Club that he welcomes a debate about constitutional rights and the Second Amendment. Really? Then why did he vote in favor of the filibuster?

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the Republican standard-bearer in 2008, voted to let the debate occur, and no one will ever accuse him of being a bleeding-heart liberal gun-grabber.  “I don’t understand it,” McCain said of the filibuster threat.  “The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand.”

If Barrasso, Enzi and others who oppose Reid’s bill were confident their views would prevail, they wouldn’t be afraid to make their arguments with a vote on the line. Maybe they realize that the National Rifle Association lines they keep spewing after each horrific gun tragedy — such as Barrasso’s indictment of video games — have worn thin with the public.

Here’s what Barrasso told CNN’s Candy Crowley during a January 20 interview on gun control: “As a doctor, I can tell you the president’s essentially ignored the major issues of mental health and violence in society in the media and video games and he has focused so much on what may be happening at gun shows or on gun shelves and gun stores that I think he is failing to really try to find a solution to the problem of the tragedy of Newtown.”

Of course there’s no need to focus on gun shows. Pay no attention to the five people who were shot at three separate “Gun Appreciation Day” events the day before Barrasso made that ridiculous statement. Why would we let a little bloodshed disturb our sensibilities when we have so much to celebrate?

Enzi frames his argument against Reid’s bill as an urban vs. rural issue in which, once again, the West always knows best.

“We understand guns,” Enzi says. “We understand there is a responsibility that comes with owning them. We know that it’s our right. It’s our right to defend ourselves. It’s our right to shoot for sport. It’s our right to hunt. But mostly it’s our constitutional right to defend ourselves.”

Absolutely nothing in Reid’s bill would threaten our right to hunt, shoot for sport or defend ourselves. What the measure would do is create a universal standard for background checks for all gun purchases, even at gun shows, which are not regulated.

Despite the rhetoric offered by Enzi and other conservatives, universal background checks have an amazing level of support — 91 percent of Americans back them, according to a Quinnipiac poll. That includes 88 percent of Republicans.

Yet Enzi feels perfectly comfortable claiming that the constitutional right of Wyomingites to bear arms is under attack, and must be protected. “There are millions of responsible gun owners and we shouldn’t punish all of them because of the actions of a few criminals,” the senator said.

Enzi acts as if any restrictions on gun ownership are unconstitutional, a position so extreme that not even our most right-wing justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, claims it to be true.

In declaring Washington, D.C.’s handgun restrictions unconstitutional, Scalia noted that “like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. … The court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings …”

In releasing their reasonable, bipartisan compromise on background checks, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) released a fact check that carefully laid out what the bill will do:

  • Expand the existing background check system to cover commercial sales, including sales at gun shows and Internet sales.
  • Strengthen the existing instant check system by encouraging states to put their available records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
  • Establish a National Commission on Mass Violence to study in-depth all the causes of mass violence in the nation.

The senators noted there are serious problems with states not putting records into the NICS. Records on the infamous Virginia Tech shooter that would have put him on the prohibited purchasers list had not been entered into the system.

The fact check concludes with an important section that details what the compromise does not do, which is essential if Republican opponents like Enzi and Barrasso continue to advance spurious arguments against all gun control legislation:

“It will not, in any way, shape or form infringe upon anyone’s Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms; it will not take away anyone’s guns; it will not ban any type of firearm; it will not ban or restrict the use of any kind of bullet or any size clip or magazine; and it will not create a national registry — in fact, it explicitly prohibits it,” Toomey and Manchin state in their fact check press release.

Before last week’s vote against a filibuster, Barrasso was banking on his belief that Reid would never bring a gun control bill to a vote because six Democratic senators will be up for re-election in 2014 in states where President Barack Obama received fewer than 42 percent of the vote. “[Reid] doesn’t want his Democrats to have to choose between their own constituents and the president’s positions,” Barrasso told CNN.

But Senate Democrats — with the exception of two who wanted a filibuster — appear united by Obama’s appeal for Congress to vote on the issue, for the sake of victims of gun violence. The president is right: They deserve one, and all of our representatives and senators should be on the record with their opinions. I wish Wyoming’s senators would recognize the basic fairness of that position.

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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6 Comments

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  1. I heard Mike “I Got Mine” Enzi today on NPR say it would take 5 days for background check at a gun show, a bald-faced lie, it takes all of 5 minutes, and the astute John “I Never Met a TV Camera I Didn’t Like” Barrasso, stated that background checks wouldn’t do any good, ya so let’s just let everything be,, in 2014 ENZI MUST GO!! And our “Texas Senator” will just have to face the consequences of a more heavily armed criminal populace.
    P.S. Wyoming is #1 in suicide rates, something to be proud of, Eh guys??

  2. Our “Three Blind Mice”, John “I Never Met a TV Camera I Didn’t Like” Barrasso and Mike “I Got Mine” Enzi, plus Cynthia “Grand Obstructionists Party” Lummis Rooting for more, bigger, better guns that can potentially kill 30 police officers wearing armor, without reloading should cause anyone with a lick of sense grave concern, I am sure these weapons are a “Blast” to shoot, but they DO NOT belong on the streets. To even pause at restricting any and all potential threats to public and self is to play to Corporations whose ONLY concern are Profits.
    If I was only able to save the life of a single child in my lifetime, I believe I would have to give that CEO a polite one finger salute.

  3. Excellent job, Kerry, and good comments. Lummis, Enzi and Bar-asso’, all three, are completely out of step with the welfare of the people of Wyoming and its natural environment. They are of course in the thrall of the mega-corporations, whether we’re talking insurance companies, pharmaceutical compounders (Oh, Wyoming’s Doctor!), fossil fuel giants, gun manufacturers… The list is very long indeed.

    It is willful ignorance to deny that the gun problem is multi-faceted, and that among those facets are wanton sale of guns without background checks, and the easy availability of assault weapons and large magazines. But our representatives find many ways to deny the evidence whenever the profits of corporations and thus their own campaign war chests might take a tiny hit. They readily ignore not only the deaths of six-year-olds, but our own suicides, as Tom Rea points out.

  4. Very good, Kerry. I endorse the statements of both Tom Rea and Mark Junge and I especially liked your last two sentences.

    I happened to have lost my right eye to enemy fire in combat in WWII so I am a little conversant with consequences. I also have been a gun owner and hunter all of my life. I have never been an NRA member, nor would I want to be. The NRA does not represent the vast majority of hunters – they represent gun manufacturers and the money they provide. Enzi and Barasso are two of the biggest hypocrites in Congress, in regard to both guns and climate.

  5. Very nice column, Kerry. I heard Sen. Enzi on the radio last week, making his “We understand guns” remarks and drawing a distinction between urban and rural states’ attitudes toward guns. He seems to be unfamiliar with what’s really going on in Wyoming, however. Here we have conistently one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. This year, according to NPR, it’s the highest. These state by state figures from a few years ago http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-11-28-depression-suicide-numbers_N.htm show Wyoming suicide rates are about three times the rates of the lowest states, Massachusetts and New York, which have more restrictive gun laws than we do. Not only is Wyoming’s suicide rate very high, the percentage of Wyoming sucides by gun is about three-fourths, not two-thirds as it is nationally. Do any of us in Wyoming over the age of, say, 40, not know at least two or three people who shot themselves to death? National Public Radio a couple of weeks ago had a good segment on Wyoming, suicide and guns, including an interview with Natrona County Coroner Connie Jacobson. Natrona County’s suicide rate is the highest of Wyoming’s 23 counties.

  6. Right on, Kerry. It’s always great to read your articles because you do the research to back up your points instead of relying upon rumor, misinformation and disinformation. I’m inclined to think that Wyoming’s representatives in Congress are more conservative than the state’s people. If you actually travel the state and listen to people at length and in private, you’ll find most to be reasonable citizens. But because Barrasso, Enzi and Lummis need the votes to stay in power they also need to defend the warped logic of the lunatic fringe who seem to attend the meetings and grab the microphones. And isn’t it all about power, money and prestige? Does anyone really doubt that Barrasso, sitting in the flag-draped Amen Corner and dressed in blue and white with a red tie is not running for a higher position in the government? And if he does achieve that objective does anyone believe that he will represent Wyomingites? Give me a break.