Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Senate, ‘Getting Something on the Floor’ and Trusting it’s not a Dead Child.

One wonders what crisis actually means within the boundaries of Washington, D.C. The 91% negative public opinion of Congress would be a crisis in any other organization, but not the House or Senate. There such things are shrugged off, ducking into a cab for that evening’s fund-raiser, still somewhat overstuffed from the earlier luncheon fund-raiser. A sturdy stomach and liver are congressional essentials—ethics, compassion or even common sense not so much.

Thus we arrive at Harry Reid’s Tuesday announcement that Diane Feinstein’s assault-weapons ban did not have the support of enough members to get it through the Senate as part of the gun control bill.
A bi-partisan shortfall, the blame for this one can’t fall entirely on Republicans. Paraphrasing Reid, “I have to get something on the floor that will pass and this isn’t it.”

We have a gun problem, friends. Both Left and Right know it, but reason can’t seem to find reasonable solutions in all the glare and hectoring, hype and finger-pointing. I think they are reasonable men and women, for the most part, but constant deadlock is getting to be a hard sell with the public. We’re weary of each week bringing yet another shooting disaster in a theater or school or shopping mall. The National Rifle Association’s solution is more guns. Armed vigilantes in the schools somehow don’t soothe the parents of at-risk kids.

Now, just for the record, I have been a lifetime hunter and skeet-shooter. I’ve always owned and been around shotguns and rifles, but somehow never felt the need of a handgun in the bedside table. Nor, since my Army days, have I ever been inclined to own or fire an automatic assault weapon. I know the argument on the gun-nut side, but if we’re sensible and stop glaring at each other, assault-weapons are not relevant to our Second Amendment rights.

But it is the 2nd Amendment, so it must have been pretty high on the Framers’ priority list. In their day it was and in their day they specified the need for a ‘well regulated militia.’ That was important to them as well, having just fought for their freedom with pretty much rag-tag militias. But I won’t get into that, it’s an issue that generates too much heat and not enough light.

Yet, at the time of the amendment, the standard for rifles, pistols and bird-guns was muzzle-loading. Bird-guns might have two barrels and pistols up to six chambers, but cartridges (what we call bullets, which are just the lead part) had not been invented. You made your shot (or shots) and then had to tip some powder into the barrel or chamber, tamp it down with a rod, slip a piece of paper down against the load before dropping in shot or a lead bullet. If it was bird-shot, another paper had to be rammed in. Then, a ‘cap’ had to be placed under the hammer to ignite the whole works. You’re getting tired of reading this, I can tell. It was a tiresome process, particularly when someone equally frightened was coming at you with intent of bodily harm.

In the time it takes to read ‘tamp it down with a rod,’ an AK-47 will fire 30 rounds and, in a single second, another clip can be shoved in. Lickety-split, the AK-47 was made for holding off hordes of people. It has no peer in the holding off hordes department. I used to shoot black-powder muzzle-loading guns. They were fun, accurate and made a lot of thrilling smoke. They were not quick.

So it’s impossible that the Framers could have conceived of today’s circumstances and on that note, Antonin Scalia, perhaps our most conservative Supreme Court Justice, is what is termed an originalist. He feels (and makes an elegant case for) the Constitution being interpreted in the times during which it was written. His point is, if the nation wants to add or detract from that document, it must do so by making laws rather than attempting to interpret the Constitution by today’s standards.

The Senate has just attempted to make such a law and failed. It did not fail because men and women of good faith wrote a bad law, it failed because of the money and power of the gun lobby, whose interests supersede the needs of the nation and pay legislators to vote in their interest, during limitless luncheon and dinner fund-raisers. We have been fund-raised out of congressional legislative responsibility.

More children will certainly die, perhaps your children, perhaps my children, perhaps their children. But they will be children, who look to us for what they are unable to provide themselves—love, food, shelter and safety.

As a side-note, let me give you a statistic. We are a nation enamored of numbers, indeed numbers have become the guiding principle of our lives. I’m fond of saying “if you torture statistics sufficiently, they will confess to anything,” but these statistics have not been water-boarded: In the 237 years since we have been a nation, 1,171,177 Americans have been killed in wars we fought—all the wars, including those we still wage. In the 45 years just since 1968, 1,384,171 Americans have died in gun related circumstances here in our own country. Two-hundred thousand more than in all our wars, since only 1968.

Interestingly, the civilian gun deaths include both accidents and suicides. More interesting, the war totals include deaths attributed to bombs, land-mines, heavy artillery and every single cause related to war. Even if you died by illness, it’s in the numbers, which makes the comparison unequal, but even more stunning.

So, I don’t have a solution for this, but I have a suggestion and I think it merits support. I want Harry Reid to bring that ‘new’ gun law of his to the floor of the Senate, including the assault weapons ban. I want him to require a roll-call vote by every single Senator—no exceptions—if a Senator can’t (or won’t) be there, a proxy vote in the Senator’s name is required.

I am willing to see this bill defeated, but I am not willing to see it defeated by Harry Reid taking the pulse of the Senate and withdrawing (by anonymous speculation) the only part of the bill that has teeth. We’ve had far too much of that.

I want the names and you and your children are entitled to see the names.

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