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Editorial: Vote on background checks reveals cowards of Senate

The dome of the U.S. Capitol. (April 15,

The dome of the U.S. Capitol. (April 15, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

All hope that the heartbreak of Sandy Hook would move Congress to finally do something to combat gun violence was lost Wednesday when the Senate refused to expand background checks for gun buyers.

In a primal scream for action, about 90 percent of Americans polled have said they want background checks expanded to gun shows and online sales. Their pleas were ignored by the 46 senators who voted against a bipartisan amendment that would have mandated the checks while exempting sales between friends and relatives. Fifty-four senators did the right thing and supported the amendment, but 60 votes were needed to break the anti-democratic filibuster that killed it.

Exempting private sales was a compromise that diluted a preferable provision for checks before all gun sales. But no accommodation was enough to persuade the naysayers to put protecting children ahead of protecting their prospects for re-election in states dominated by the radical notion that any curb on gun ownership is unacceptable. They maintained their craven fealty to the gun lobby and manufacturers, even as 32,000 Americans a year lose their lives to gun violence.

Background checks don't infringe on Second Amendment rights. But they do help keep guns out of the hands of felons, people with dangerous mental illnesses, and others who shouldn't have them. Expanding them was the only meaningful reform left in the bill. A ban on assault weapons and limit on the capacity of ammunition clips had already been stripped out after it became clear there weren't enough votes to pass them.

That left only funds for school security and tougher penalties for gun trafficking still on the table. But who needs traffickers? Without background checks, violent people who can't legally buy guns won't need straw buyers to get all the firepower they crave.

What the Senate did Wednesday was irresponsible and cowardly. The American people deserve better.