By MARSHA MERCER
The National Rifle Association won round one, but don’t count gun control advocates out just yet. Not when Gabby Giffords is in the ring.
She no longer has a vote in Congress, but if this courageous fighter has anything to do with it, reason will prevail. Eventually.
In all that was said and written in outrage after the Senate defeated several gun control measures Wednesday, the words of the former Arizona congresswoman were the most honest and inspirational.
To recap, only 54 senators voted for a bipartisan compromise that would have required background checks at gun shows and for online purchases – not the 60 needed to pass the measure.
No matter that national polls show 85 to 92 percent of Americans support expanding background checks. Senators are elected from individual states, not nationwide, and state politics trumps national sentiment. Even fewer senators voted for amendments to prohibit high-capacity magazines and to reinstate a ban on certain military-style rifles.
Gabrielle Giffords is still recovering from serious injuries after being shot in January 2011 outside a supermarket in Tucson while meeting with constituents. Last January, she testified haltingly before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “You must act.” The Senate didn’t.
President Obama had made preventing gun violence a key issue after the Newtown massacre, but he could not deliver the 60 votes needed to move gun control forward. The NRA insisted, wrongly, that the bill would criminalize private transfers of firearms between family members or friends. Senators fell in line.
“Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious,” Giffords wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday.
“Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, six of whom died,” she wrote.
“These senators have heard from their constituents – who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.”
There are glimmers of hope. The NRA is being challenged by several gun control advocates, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly started Americans for Responsible Solutions, an advocacy group with a separate political action committee to encourage elected officials to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun owners.
Yes, they are gun owners, and even after what happened to her, Kelly and Giffords go target shooting. Kelly, a former Navy captain and astronaut who likely has a political career, did a video for the Americans for Responsible Solutions site that shows how easy it is to get a background check. He takes a pocket camera to a local gun shop, buys a .45 – the background check takes all of 5 minutes, 36 seconds -- and brings the gun home to show Giffords.
Giffords has harnessed her anger. In her Times piece, she writes: “I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers in the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote.
“I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I am asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.”
Gun control legislation appears frozen for the foreseeable future, so the consequences may not be apparent until the 2014 election. Power can shift, however. Not that long ago, the NRA supported background checks as “reasonable.”
“We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone,” Wayne LaPierre of the NRA told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime a month after the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999. Twelve students and one teacher were murdered in that attack. A background check measure failed in the Senate that year anyway.
Gun control advocates know it will take time. Fortunately, Giffords and Kelly say they are in it for the long haul. Reason will rule. Eventually.
©2013 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.