The Senate deal to expand gun background checks is far short of perfect. Under the compromise brokered by Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Joe Manchin, D-W.V.; Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Pat Toomey, R-Penn., background checks would be required for sales online and at gun shows, closing a significant loophole. Background checks would not, however, be expanded to individual sales, leaving in place a loophole that allows straw purchasers to funnel weapons to felons.
What’s more, the compromise does nothing to regulate what types of firearms are available, or to limit accessories, such as the 30-round magazines used by shooter Adam Lanza in his attack in Newtown, Conn.
If you believe in gun regulation, you may be tempted to throw up your hands, and declare that they system is irrevocably broken. If Congress can’t pass meaningful gun regulation after the Sandy Hook attack, when will it happen?
Certainly, that sentiment is understandable, but it ignores the larger symbolism of the moment. The NRA fought against the expansion of background checks, just as it has fought every gun regulation proposed since the expiration of the assault weapons ban. Indeed, the recent history of gun regulation has been one of ever-expansive rights for gun owners — with the NRA successfully advancing bills allowing concealed weapons in national parks, requiring background check records to be destroyed, and preventing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from monitoring gun dealers for illegal, off-book sales. Indeed, the NRA successfully lobbied to make the position of BATFE director one that requires Senate confirmation — and has managed to block every BAFTE director appointed since.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the NRA has managed to beat back any and every regulation proposed by anyone over the past decade. It is an organization that has gotten used to having its way.
That is why today’s announcement is so important. As the old saying goes, it’s not how gracefully the dancing bear waltzes, but that it waltzes at all. The fact that the Senate appears poised to get any gun regulation through is a sign that the NRA’s power has peaked, and is beginning to ebb. Despite resolute and continued opposition to expanding background checks to gun shows, the NRA has found that in this case, it cannot bully enough Senators into doing its will; simply, Republican senators recognized that this fight was a political loser, and whatever the NRA might demand, voting against background checks would be damaging.
The NRA is trying to put the best face on things it can. It has called the revision to the bill a “positive development,” and it has been noncommittal about “scoring” the vote, leaving open the possibility that it may simply choose not to fight further. That’s politics: losers always try to salvage some measure of victory.
The NRA has lost, however. Just days ago, it appeared they may succeed in lobbying for a successful filibuster. Now they must hope that the House can water down legislation further. It may not be a dramatic victory for those of us who support sensible gun regulation, but it represents a critical turning point — and it will make the next showdown with the NRA all the easier.