Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo was candid, if not courageous, when asked about the prospects in next year’s General Assembly for an assault weapons ban or allowing local governments to enact gun laws.
“After 36 years in public office, I still have a 100-percent voting record in support of the Second Amendment and the NRA,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told Kentucky Public Radio. “As tragic as the events in Orlando were, I think these changes would be an overreaction.”
The U.S. Senate remains equally subservient to the National Rifle Association, despite the 49 people killed and 53 wounded at a gay nightclub in Orlando by a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.
Republicans on Monday defeated universal background checks for gun buyers, just as they did after last year’s mass shooting in San Bernardino. A similar measure was defeated in 2013, when Democrats controlled the Senate, after 20 children and six adults were shot to death in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
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An estimated 40 percent of gun transfers (sales and gifts) in this country escape background checks because only licensed gun dealers fall under the requirement. The background check law aims to keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, people with histories of certain mental illnesses and those who are in the country illegally; it has stopped more than 2.4 million transactions since 1998. But private sales, including those over the Internet, are exempt.
All but one Republican, including Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, along with Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, voted against closing the giant loopholes in gun background checks, keeping those lawmakers in sync with the NRA.
Senate Republicans did attempt to hide their political cowardice behind fig leaves in the form of two bills: One would have increased federal spending on the existing loophole-ridden background check system.
The other would have delayed gun sales to suspected terrorists or anyone investigated for terrorism within the last five years for 72 hours while federal law enforcement officials tried to persuade a court to stop the sale. Voting for it enabled Republicans to say they did their part to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists.
One big catch with that reasoning: Excluding suspected terrorists from buying a gun is useless when they can easily avoid the background check that would flag them. All they would have to do is log on to Armslist, the Craigslist for guns, and arrange a private sale.
As journalist George Zornick wrote in The Nation, the Republican bill adding terrorists to gun no-buy lists “would be akin to creating additional screening procedures at the airport, but making the TSA lines entirely optional. Either these senators are quite optimistic about suspected terrorists’ asking federal permission to own a gun, or perhaps they were never that concerned about it in the first place.”
After withholding a critical tool for keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and the violently mentally ill, Senate Republican Leader McConnell rose on the Senate floor Tuesday and said, “We all agree that the Obama administration must prevent the sale of guns to terrorists.” McConnell then criticized the president for not defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria and said “we need to defeat it overseas if we want to prevent more terrorist tragedies at home.”
Keeping the weapons of war out of the hands of violence-prone, Internet-inflamed wife beaters like the shooter in Orlando seems like a much more direct way to protect Americans at home, especially since ISIS ideas can spread through social media without any military presence on the ground.
But that more direct approach would require McConnell and his fellow Republicans to challenge the gun lobby.
Also on Monday, the Supreme Court let stand bans on assault weapons in New York and Connecticut; lower courts had ruled the bans do not violate the Constitution’s Second Amendment.
But, as Democrat Stumbo said, that 100 percent NRA rating is all-important.
Never mind that it is soaked in blood.