Rand Paul of Kentucky and 13 other GOP senators are proudly promising to block a vote on gun control. They are, they say with flag-wrapped sincerity, willing to take the extreme step of a filibuster to avoid the trampling of Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
It appears the Senate will have enough votes to override the filibuster on at least some bills as early as today, but the effort to prevent debate on an issue of such national importance should anger voters.
Gun violence — from massacres like those in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., to street shootings to suicides — are a U.S. tragedy. Congress cannot solve the problem, but with narrow, data-based legislation it may be able to help.
Not every gun reform makes sense, which is why debate is important.
The filibuster threat from Paul, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and others, is based on a disingenuous reading of the U.S. Constitution.
The Second Amendment is not a masterpiece of draftsmanship, but it clearly does not provide an unbridled right to weapons that did not even exist in 1787, when the amendment passed:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
It is the only amendment which states its purpose, which is limited to the 18th Century necessity of a civilian militia. It specifically states that the militia should be “well regulated,” a relevant caveat when the issue is the regulation of guns.
The Second Amendment cannot be ignored, and courts have consistently given it legal significance. Numerous municipal efforts to limit handguns have been struck down as unconstitutional.
Yet Paul and the others do not limit their filibuster threat to restrictions that arguably violate the Second Amendment. In a letter to the Senate majority leader, they promised to block “any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions.”
Almost none of the restrictions the Senate is considering have Second Amendment implications. Do the 14 senators claim the Constitution somehow prohibits an expansion of background checks to gun shows, so it is harder for the mentally ill and convicted felons to get guns? That it requires that every gun owner have access to ammunition clips that hold more than 15 rounds? Which of these provisions do they claim violates the Second Amendment?
Not all gun controls are wise. Not all pass constitutional muster. By trying to prevent a vote in the Senate, however, the 14 senators are playing a game that does not do justice to the seriousness of the issue. Too many people have died from gun violence. Too many families are suffering ongoing grief.
No laws will completely solve the problem, but Americans deserve a good-faith debate over whether some legislation can help.
The 14 senators are playing politics and courting gun manufacturers. Pretending they are protecting the U.S. Constitution is an insult to the many Americans — including gun owners — who are seeking responsible solutions.