Editorial: Senate must vote on gun reforms

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. (Feb. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. (Feb. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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It would be a defiant act of unconscionable cowardice if a group of Republicans makes good on a threat to filibuster gun violence legislation, blocking it from even being debated on the Senate floor.

The victims of the Newtown massacre deserve better. That's why their families were on Capitol Hill yesterday pleading for a vote.

The nation needs to know how our elected officials stand. Only weasels hide behind technicalities. It would be best if the Senate passed the bill, which calls for universal background checks for gun buyers, tougher penalties for gun trafficking and funding for school security.

The sticking point yesterday was a provision requiring that there be a record of background checks from private gun sales, to document compliance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and 13 other Republicans who threatened the filibuster irrationally see any records as an unacceptable step toward a national gun registry.

A few senators were negotiating yesterday in search of a compromise acceptable to both parties. But any deal that doesn't require documenting that checks were done would make the law unenforceable. The gaping loophole that currently allows the 40 percent of firearms sold in gun shows and other private deals to change hands without background checks would essentially remain open for abuse.

And without enforceable background checks, tougher penalties for gun trafficking would be a sham. If felons, the dangerously mentally ill and others who cannot buy guns legally could continue to purchase them with impunity from private sellers, they wouldn't need the help of "straw buyers" to get all the firepower they want.

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A handful of GOP senators, led by John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said they won't join a filibuster. But unless some acceptable deal is struck, there may not be the needed 60 votes to avoid the gutless tactic.

With 32,000 gun deaths a year; memories of Newtown and Aurora still fresh; and overwhelming public support for background checks, the Senate should do its job and debate and then vote on these reforms. Anything less in the face of such a national tragedy would be shameful.

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