Manchin-Toomey was not a solution

Manchin-Toomey was not a solution, but a measure creating more ‘loopholes’ that would have emboldened more curbs to the Second Amendment and done little to halt future tragedies

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Is more loopholes really what is needed?
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Ewan Watt
On 19 April 2013 11:03

According to President Barack Obama the Senate’s decision to vote down the Manchin-Toomey gun control bill marked “a pretty shameful day for Washington.” Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman from Florida exclaimed, “We are the 90 percent. ... 90 percent will not be ignored... The American people were insulted yesterday.”

The gun control debate has certainly been one of numbers. Scarborough’s utterance stemmed from a widely circulated poll showing that some 90 percent of Americans support additional background checks for gun purchases. In addition, gun control advocates have been highlighting that support for gun control is near historic highs, with polls also indicating that Americans are becoming more comfortable with further checks on the purchase of a firearm. A golden opportunity to give the National Rifle Association a bloody nose one might think. So why did 46 Senators reject the proposals?

Despite what some sections of the media say, the United States is still overwhelmingly pro-gun. Even following the tragic shootings in Aurora, CO, a poll found that “a strong majority of Americans believe that the constitutional right to own and carry a gun is as important as the right to free speech.” Senators could vote against Manchin-Toomey knowing that, unlike Obamacare, the repercussions would be, at best, minimal. This was pointed out by pollster Scott Rasmussen who noted that, although expanded background checks have public support, Americans “want to make sure the checks are limited to only restricting convicted felons and those with serious mental health issues.”

The second problem was that just 40 percent supported a national database of gun owners. Although the Manchin-Toomey bill didn’t create a national database per se, it did, as pointed out by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) require a “massive expansion of gun ownership data collected by federally licensed dealers to which the government has access. After all, you cannot track all gun sales without tracking all gun owners.”

When polls overwhelmingly show the massive deficit of trust gun owners have with the federal government, most members of the Senate can vote against such a measure confident that their numbers will be buoyed, rather than broken, when they return home for recess in a few weeks or run for re-election.

But what ultimately proved to be fatal for the gun-control lobby was the public’s lack of urgency around the issue. Just 4 percent of Americans saw gun control as a priority. The administration and gun control advocates must take some of the blame here. Both were unable to come up with a compelling rationale for the passage of the Manchin-Toomey, or really any gun-control legislation. When repeatedly asked whether such a measure would have prevent future shootings, a mumbled response around “doing something” was the best the American people received. Background checks were being sold like they were some kind of panacea. The facts suggest otherwise.

Inevitably the failure of the Manchin-Toomey has sparked more finger-pointing at the NRA who, according to President Obama, lied to cajole Senators. However, gun-control advocates should really be blaming the vast majority of Americans. Senators have learned something from the Obamacare debacle: people can support broad principles around reform, but will make elected officials pay the price if they misinterpret this as a green light for implementing unpopular legislation.

Manchin-Toomey was not a solution, but a measure creating more ‘loopholes’ that would have emboldened yet more curbs to the Second Amendment and done little or nothing to halt future tragedies.

Ewan Watt lives and works in Virginia and writes strictly in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter at @ewancwatt

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