As the gun debate moves front and center this week in Washington, two opposing forces that have defined politics for a generation are coming to a head. In the blue corner, we have a tentative bipartisan consensus, and, in the red corner, we have Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster.
The months since Sandy Hook have seen politicians in Congress exchanging proposals and counter-proposals, with Democrats insisting on re-authorizing an assault weapons ban and Republicans emphasizing smaller reforms such as school security and beefing up databases. Out of these workings a narrative has emerged — one that we have seen too little of in recent years — one of bipartisanship, of Democrats abandoning the most controversial elements of their proposals and Republicans emphasizing the common ground. The Senate, with guarded optimism, has plans to move forward with a gun bill that includes greater funding for school security, a mental health database, and a universal, mandatory background check.
Of course, not everyone in Washington is willing to go along with this pleasant and rationale narrative. Over the same period, Senator Paul and his supporters have funded ad-buys against fellow Republicans who have shown the barest intimations of open-mindedness on guns. We have seen Senator Paul promise to filibuster a gun bill that he has not seen, much less read. We have seen Senator Rubio contort himself into opposing 94% of his constituents who support background checks, and Wayne LaPierre insist that he was mistaken in 1999 when he described universal background checks as a common-sense solution. This week, Senator Paul and twelve of his fellow Republicans in the Senate — including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee — have vowed to use every "parliamentary" procedure in order to block this bill from being debated. Despite this, it is well known that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, due to recent changes in Senate procedure, can side-step the filibuster, rendering all of Sen. Paul’s remonstrations nothing more than another publicity stunt.
Although a man of principle, there is nothing that Sen. Paul believes that can make sense of his opposition to the gun bill. On the one hand, he believes that the president does not have the authority to improve enforcement of federal gun statues through executive order, but, on the other hand, new gun legislation is unnecessary, partly because not all is being done to enforce existing laws. Senator Paul believes that undergoing a background check when buying a firearm from a licensed dealer does not violate your civil rights (because any record of a legal purchase is destroyed in 24 hours), but undergoing a background check at a gun show does. He believes that new gun laws will not deter criminals, because we already have all kinds of laws and some criminals still commit crimes.
These arguments, many of which are on both sides of the same issue, have been what he has used over the past few months to defend his opposition to gun reform, but they are all merely for television, taking the place, when in front of respectable audiences, for the real reason Senator Paul has for opposing this bill, which is a fear he has of a secret government program to track every gun in America, a possibility clearly prohibited by current law and notion no one can disabuse him of.
Regardless, Senator Paul already has a history of building up his reputation on the basis of diatribes aimed at no one in particular, from domestic drone policy to the UN’s black helicopters. Formal debate in the Senate began yesterday.