A Senate disconnected from the voters

A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week says 70 percent of Americans think the Republican Party is out of touch.

The same poll found that 86 percent of Americans — and 84 percent of those who call themselves Republicans — support requiring background checks on gun purchases made at gun shows or over the Internet. On Wednesday, a measure that would do exactly that was stopped in the U.S. Senate after gaining the support of only four Republicans.

Any questions?

That shameful disconnect defeated the Senate’s best chance at passing meaningful gun restrictions, gutting the first serious attempt at such legislation in two decades.

A national conversation that began with the slaughter of 20 first-graders all but ended with a paranoid debate about whether requiring background checks on gun buyers would somehow lead to the government going door to door confiscating weapons.

Are Americans really worried about that? No. Most Americans, including more than half of those who own guns, believe it’s possible to pass gun laws without stepping on the Second Amendment.

The point of background checks is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Federally licensed gun dealers already run checks before making a sale; the measure before the Senate would have extended them to the venues where those who can’t pass a background check do their shopping. It’s common sense.

The National Rifle Association says it’s the first step toward a national gun registry. That’s a great fetcher line for the NRA’s perpetual fundraising appeal, but it’s a bogeyman.

To counter the fearmongering, the bill’s authors — a red state Democrat and a blue state Republican, both with A ratings from the NRA — included a provision that prohibits establishing a gun registry and contains criminal penalties for anyone who uses the data for that purpose.

Yet there was Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., harping about the “unnecessary burdens” the measure would place on gun owners.

In the Washington Post/ABC poll, 60 percent of respondents said they’d still vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on gun control. There’s less risk in thumbing your nose at public opinion if the polls also show a particular issue isn’t a deal breaker on Election Day. But the GOP is playing catch-up on a number of issues that suddenly enjoy broad public support. Immigration reform, to name one.

We’re not convinced the public is going to be all that forgiving about how the gun control debate played out, once the smoke clears and it turns out that Congress has done, essentially, nothing.

“American voters are the ultimate judge of today’s result,” said Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who broke ranks to vote for the background check legislation. A warning, it would seem, to his own party.

On Wednesday, after the Senate rebuffed the background checks measure but before it had gone on to reject bans on assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, two women were escorted from the gallery for causing a disturbance. They were Patricia Maisch, who survived a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., and Lori Haas, whose daughter was shot at Virginia Tech.

“Shame on you!” they shouted. Shame, indeed.

Chicago Tribune