The question in Washington seems not to be whether there should be tighter background checks for people who want to buy guns. The question is whether thats even a topic worthy of debate.
Yes, 90 percent of Americans support expanding background checks for prospective gun purchasers, poll after poll finds. But the 10 percent, led by the National Rifle Association, are louder. They certainly have the ear of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.
After 20 young children and six adults were shot and killed in cold blood in Newtown, Conn., it appeared this nation might finally have a debate about gun violence and how to reduce it. But Burr and a dozen of his Republican colleagues not only dont want any additional gun restrictions; they want to use the filibuster to block the Senate from debating them.
Thirteen Republicans, including Burr, signed a letter vowing to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American peoples constitutional right to bear arms, or their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance. While every other right in the Bill of Rights such as freedom of speech is subject to limitation, these 13 seem to believe that weapons that kill should be the exception.
Burr and the other demagoguing dozen should listen to their fellow Republican, Sen. John McCain.
I dont understand it, McCain told CBS. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand.
What are we afraid of? The American people will profit from the debate, McCain said.
President Obama says its just common sense to require people to prove theyre not criminals before buying guns, and its hard to argue with that. But currently, people can buy guns at gun shows or from private individuals without a background check, and millions do.
That makes things tougher on police. And thats why Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe was in Washington on Tuesday, along with 20 other police chiefs, arguing for the expanded background checks. Monroe says 80 percent of gun-crime offenders obtained their guns without a background check.
Thankfully, it appears enough Republicans including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are siding with McCain, not Burr. Eight have said they back bringing the bill to a vote, which should be enough to make it happen Thursday.
Thats the least the Senate could do for the parents of the 20 children who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14. Nearly a dozen parents were to meet with senators Tuesday, including North Carolinas Sen. Kay Hagan. Hagan, a Democrat who could face a tough reelection fight next year, has been squishy on supporting the expanded background checks. Our bet is that a strong majority of North Carolinians would have her back if she did the right thing and voted for universal checks. Her vote could be crucial; even if Democrats overcome the filibuster, the vote on the legislation could be close.
Patching holes in the existing background checks system is common sense. Blocking even a debate of the question is an insult to families whose lives have been forever changed by gun violence.
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