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Defeat of Toomey-Manchin: Neither Cloture nor Closure for Victims of Gun Violence

Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) (R) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.VA) (L) hold a news conference on firearms background checks on Capitol Hill in Washington April 10, 2013 (REUTERS/Gary Cameron).

Whither Representation? Yesterday’s failure to advance the Toomey-Manchin Amendment to expand background checks on gun purchases showed the American people that regardless of their preferences, regardless of what a majority of Senators want, regardless of the amount of compromise, some Senators refuse to represent their states.

Public polling is clear, and those who argue that polling is non-scientific, not truly capturing public opinion, are liberal machinations, or are biased in sampling and question wording remind us of those who expected a decisive Romney victory in November because all the polls were wrong. One poll could be off; two polls could fall victim to poor question wording. Yet, the reality of public opinion on background checks is well-established by a variety of sources including universities (here, here and here); in blue states, red states, and swing states; liberal sources and conservative sources; and the most well-regarded polling firms in the world (here  and here).

Such support is not mixed. In almost every poll between 85%-91% of Americans support such reforms. Support is not regional, nor gendered, nor partisan, nor ideological, nor dependent on gun ownership. It is as broad-based as the reforms are moderate. It is as systematic as Toomey-Manchin is sensible.

Despite public opinion, 45 Senators failed to represent voters, and instead represented interest groups. (There were 46 Nay votes because Sen. Reid was required by Senate rules to switch his vote from Yea in order to reserve the right to recall the legislation at a later date—a common procedural move by Senate leaders.) They fell victim to pressure from a lobby who warned of national registries and criminalizing innocent behaviors. Chuck Grassley noted on the Senate floor yesterday that, “This is a slippery slope of compromising the Second Amendment, and if we go down that road, we are going to find it easier to compromise other things in the Bill of Rights.”

Senators failed to allow public opinion to get in the way of their voting. The same can be said for the facts. Fears about national registries arose because of interest group involvement and United States Senators constantly repeating talking points that diverged from reality. A quick reading of the Toomey-Manchin legislation shows that a national gun registry is explicitly banned in not one, not two, but three different places.

“Congress supports and reaffirms the existing prohibition on a national firearms registry.”

“Nothing in this title, or any amendment made by this title shall be construed to allow the establishment, directly or indirectly, of a Federal firearms registry.”

”Prohibition of National Gun Registry. – Section 923 of Title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

"(m) The Attorney General may not consolidate or centralize the records of the-
(1)   Acquisition or disposition of firearms, or any portion thereof, maintained by-
    (A) a person with a valid, current license under this chapter; 
    (B) an unlicensed transferor under section 922(t); or
(2)   Possession or ownership of a firearm, maintained by any medical or health insurance entity."

This language could not be clearer. Public support could not be stronger. And 45 Senators could not possibly have turned their back on their constituents in a more striking way.

Victims of gun violence—particularly families who suffered losses in the Newtown massacre—came to Capitol Hill not to promote their personal interests, not to promote their personal narrative above public will. They lobbied Senators to support something Americans overwhelmingly support.

Forty-five Senators worried that conducting background checks on gun buyers is a Constitutional violation and feared the wrath of interest groups who represent the views of 10% of the population on this issue. Now they must hope that when voters conduct their own background checks before going into the voting booth, that this vote is overlooked.