Gun Control Debate: 5,000 Reasons to Keep Fighting For More Restrictions

Commemorating the 6-six month anniversary of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut., a group of Democratic leaders quietly renewed the push for enhanced gun control legislation on Thursday. After six months in which no substantial legislation has been passed, the friends and family members of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims travelled to Capitol Hill to demand a plan to end gun violence.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada.), former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CAalif.), and others convened in a small room below the Capitol, vowing to re-new the fight to expand background checks. The issue has been dormant ever after a similar bill introduced by Senators Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-PAenn.) failed in the Senate just a few months ago.

“The bill that passes the Senate must have background checks,” Reid stressed, “And not a watered-down version of background checks.” Reid went on to mention his father's suicide with a gun as part of his motivation for taking up the issue.   

The victims’ families met this week with Congressional leaders, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, as well as President Obama, about renewing the fight for gun control. Since the widely-publicized shootings in Connecticut, overmore than 5,000 people have died by gun violence— — a widely-quoted statistic on Thursday by gun control advocates frustrated by the misconception that gun violence is a problem that only happens around mass shootings.

“We have to give them a credible and commendable way to change their votes,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), referring to the fives additional votes that they will need to pick to clear the 60 mark in the Senate, and a possible sixth if New Jersey’s newly-nominated Republican Senator Jeffrey S. Chiesa is opposed. “Sometimes clarification can have the appearance of change.”

Some say that a new version of the legislation could include language that would loosen restrictions in rural areas, where gun rights advocates tend to be strong, and public support for background checks is weakest. 

This ironically occurred on the same day that Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed state legislation to expand background checks, an action that was criticized sharply by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Rather than sign sensible legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of convicted felons and the mentally ill,” Bloomberg said, “Governor Sandoval has decided to preserve the loopholes that they use to buy guns.”

Sandoval, in a veto statement, claimed that the bill would do “little to prevent criminals from unlawfully obtaining firearms.”

The issue is deeply puzzling for gun control advocates, and for many serves as a snapshot of pervasive Congressional disfunction. According to an April Gallup poll, 91% of Americans are supportive of expanded background checks (compared to just 15% of Americans who are supportive of Congress). And yet the legislation fails.

In a post, commenters at Gallup attempted to explain the disparity between public opinion and legislative inaction by pointing to the structure of the Senate: 

“Both senators from the nation’s smallest state, Wyoming (Barrasso and Enzi) did vote ‘nay.’ The votes of these two senators represented a little more than half a million people. Both senators from the nation’s largest state, California (Boxer and Feinstein) did vote ‘yea.’ Their votes represented more than 38 million people. In a national public opinion poll, the residents of Wyoming are about 1.5% of the residents of California. Phrased differently, California residents represent about 12% of the nation’s population, while Wyoming residents represent about 0.2% of the nation’s population.”

And yet, both sets of sSenators get an equal say in the nation’s laws. Which, in the case of background checks, means the nation gets exactly zero meaningful new laws. It is quite possible and believable that Wyoming’s senators were voting in the interest of their constituents, but due to the non-representational makeup of the Senate, they carry a disproportional voice.

According to data put together by Slate, Wyoming has seen 10 deaths in the six months since the Newtown shootings, while California has seen 582.

Gun deaths by region: