There is a mix of emotions surrounding the failed passage of the Toomey-Manchin bill in U.S. Senate recently. Anger, sadness, joy, relief, confusion are descriptions of what I have seen or heard from people who were following what many called a legislative compromise.
So, why did the advancement of this bill fail? No one ever really wants the whole truth. They want "their" truth. Often that means a single person, group or organization was the cause. Just flip between MSNBC, CNN or Fox News to see a convincing public demonstration of my claim.
This bill attempted to address an issue that 90 percent of our citizens (per a poll) supported. We all know that issue was background checks for gun purchases. It does NOT mean 90 percent of the people supported the Toomey-Manchin bill. Rather, I speculate that a percentage at least as large had no idea what was actually written in that bill.
The NRA played a prominent role in lobbying for an outcome they desired. They are a powerful lobbying group representing 4.25 million gun owners and the gun manufacturing industry. The Brady Group and Mayor Bloomberg's lobbying group MAIG also spent huge sums of money to influence the outcome. Individuals throughout the United States called or wrote to their representatives in support or opposition of the bill. And this is how lobbying works in a republic such as ours.
Senators who voted against the Toomey-Manchin bill are reported to claim that it was NOT background checks they opposed; it was the specific provisions found within the bill that they could not support. But weren't we led to believe that this was a bipartisan compromise? Not really. The bill advanced from committee with a vote along party lines. Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Other than four Republicans voting for this specific bill and five Democrats voting against the bill, the vote followed party lines. It was never really a bipartisan bill.
So if the bill lacked language both sides could support, despite 90 percent of the citizenry desiring some form of background check before purchasing a firearm, who is to blame? Certainly we can look to the lack of leadership in our bicameral legislature. Rabid partisans have replaced our revered statesmen. Representatives are defined by their political party, rather than the individuals they represent.
President Obama has been unable to lead in a manner any differently than what we see in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Our president lacks the skill and ability to bridge partisan differences even when 90 percent of us agree on a goal. You cannot expect to lead and influence a nation when you paint one side as woman-haters and assailants of the poor who cling to their guns and religion.
The Second Amendment does not grant the right to own a firearm. Rather, it recognizes the individual right to keep and bear arms pre-existed the birth of our nation. The Second Amendment affirms that right and states our government shall not infringe it. It is no wonder that there is passion surrounding such a fundamental right. Many believe that the First and Second amendments actually define American liberty.
In the end, this bill failed because we lack trust and we are unable to reach meaningful compromise. Making sure those who should NOT own firearms are prevented from purchasing them is a common-sense goal. Listening to all sides when you develop any legislation is essential. There cannot be hidden clauses or a lack of understanding on the subject you are attempting to legislate. In this situation, leadership could not provide the trust or the meaningful compromise.
I credit our federal legislators for creating the legislative bill in the light of day. Trust can never be earned by a "message of necessity" and a vote in the middle of the night, as our state legislature and governor did in January.
Raymond A. Scollin lives in Saranac Lake.