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Abrams: Senate gun vote shows impact of special interests on Washington

The Capitol Dome silhouetted against the rising sun

The Capitol Dome silhouetted against the rising sun in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images

The American people are in shock that 46 members of the U.S. Senate turned their backs on the will of the people and rejected a compromise measure that would have expanded gun purchase background checks. President Obama summed it up well: “All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.”

It was shameful because of the desperate need to protect innocent children and other citizens from the irrational and ruthless violence that rigorous background checks would help to prevent. It was shameful because, as polls reflect, 90% of the people all over the country, irrespective of where they live, what they do or their political orientation, support stronger background checks for the purchase of guns.

It is bewildering that a representative governmental body can so callously turn its back on what is so patently needed. How many more headlines of mass shootings by reckless and deranged individuals must be written before reasonable reform measures, consistent with Second Amendment constitutional rights, are adopted by Congress? That list is already much, much too long: 29 mass shootings in the U.S. since the April 1999 Columbine massacre in Littleton CO (13 dead, 21 wounded), including the massacre in Aurora CO (12 dead, 58 wounded), the Sikh Temple massacre in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (7 dead), and, most recently, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (6 adults and 20 children killed in the school).

It is clear that at least some U.S. Senators who voted against the background check measure did so out of fear that the powerful gun lobby would pour money into attack ads to defeat them in their next campaign. That, too, is shameful.

The time has come for all individuals who seek public office to do so with the thought that service in a legislative body is a high calling, that it is a privilege to serve even one term, and it is better to risk defeat by voting your conscience and doing what is right than to ensure reelection by bending to the power of special interests. A legislator will get more gratification, lifelong inner peace and ultimate respect by the community at large if he or she approaches each issue on the merits without any thought of political consequences, and without fear of the next campaign and potential electoral defeat.

If legislators did not cower to threats of special interest reprisal, and were guided by doing what is right, this nation would move more quickly on the path of reform in a wide variety of areas: guns, financing of political campaigns, immigration and budget stability. We should be asking our legislators, when contemplating a vote on a measure, to seek out facts from all sides, spend time reflecting on consequences of the proposed legislation, and then dig deep into their heart, soul and conscience as to what is the right thing to do.

I submit that persons of worth will be able to find a way to earn a living and to contribute to their country even if they lose an election. And they, and the nation, will be stronger for their having taken that risk.

Robert Abrams is the former Attorney General of the State of New York.