As Washington Begins Debate on Gun Violence Bills, National Responses Vary

As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a package of gun violence prevention proposals this week, Republicans face a choice: whether to side with the vast majority of Americans who want common sense gun regulation, or with the radical pro-gun fringe.

Today, a group of far-right, NRA-backed Senators are threatening to use the filibuster to shut down the debate on gun safety measures backed by over 90 percent of Americans. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week, Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee pledged to “oppose any legislation” that seeks to expand background checks or crack down on interstate gun trafficking. Joining them in the letter are eleven other Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have rebuked these blind filibuster threats as extreme and unnecessary. Top GOP Senators Lindsey Graham, Tom Coburn, and Johnny Isakson have all called on fellow conservatives to allow a vote on gun safety legislation. On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Senator John McCain joined in questioning the Republicans who have threatened to filibuster gun legislation they haven’t even seen yet:

"I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand,” McCain said.

While some legislators continue to impede progress on this issue, others, such as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and his GOP colleague Senator Pat Toomey have renewed efforts to spearhead a bipartisan agreement on background checks. Yesterday, the two senators announced an agreement on a deal that expands background checks to gun shows and internet purchases.

Meanwhile, President Obama traveled to Connecticut on Monday to remind Americans how important their voice is as the gun debate unfolds. While there, he blasted the efforts by some Senate Republicans to shut down the discussion:

"They’re not just saying they’ll vote no on ideas that almost all Americans support,” Obama said. “They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter, and that’s not right.”

The obstructionist tactics used by the far-right senators are sadly part of a larger national backlash to discussions about common-sense gun regulations. Last month, Montana's legislature passed a bill that would have forbidden state law enforcement from cooperating with federal officials in enforcing a ban on semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines, should such bans ever become law.

Bills in other states seek to outright nullify federal gun laws, including those passed in the Wyoming House and Kentucky Senate. These bills aren’t just terrible for safety, they’re also unconstitutional.

Luckily, there are still those who are willing to stand up to these mindless obstructionist tactics from the right. Late last week, Montana Governor Steve Bullock vetoed the state’s proposed bill, calling it “unnecessary political theater that would not meaningfully protect our Second Amendment rights.”

Other governors have gone a step further in standing up against right-wing intimidation by calling for their state’s gun violence prevention laws to be reinforced. Last week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed the nation’s most far-reaching gun violence prevention bill. The bill, approved by bipartisan votes in both chambers, adds more than 100 weapons to the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits the capacity of ammunition magazines and requires background checks for all weapon sales, including at gun shows:

“This is a profoundly emotional day for everyone…when 92% of Americans agree that every gun sale should be subject to a background check, there is no excuse not to make it federal law” Malloy said.

In recent months, legislatures in Colorado , Maryland, and New York have all advanced their own measures to combat gun violence. Collectively these states have demonstrated the courage to stand up to the bullying tactics of the big gun lobby and their allies on the far right. These states have shown the effectiveness of speaking out against the radical agenda coming from right-wing politicians on the state and national level and have sent a message to Washington that action needs to happen.

The last thing our nation needs now is obstructionist tactics leading to watered down, ineffective legislation. We need a meaningful, national response to gun violence in America. But for that to happen, Republicans are going to need to stand up against the radical pro-gun Right, and for common sense.

PFAW