A new ABC News-Washington Post poll found that around 80 percent of Americans want expanded background checks on firearms sales along with “red flag” laws that would temporarily remove guns from those showing signs they might use them to harm people. Bills that would do both of those things have passed the House of Representatives.
The poll, which includes support from a majority of Republicans, comes after shooting rampages in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have the country grieving and on edge. Other mass shootings in Texas and California, though receiving less media attention, have certainly added weight to the collective conscience of a nation that wants something done.
The numbers really aren’t all that surprising. After a shooter massacred 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of 6 and 7, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, similar legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to expand background checks had broad bipartisan support among the public. The bill polled at well over 80 percent, and at one point had 85 percent approval from gun owners.
So there are popular bills out there that can begin to address the problem of guns winding up in the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.
The roadblock remains the U.S. Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refuses the bring them up for a vote. McConnell embraces the nickname “Grim Reaper” because of a reputation for killing progressive legislation but is offended by the moniker “Moscow Mitch” for his inaction on bills to help secure U.S. elections. Pick whichever one you like, but it’s clear that McConnell’s go-to move is to not move at all.
McConnell insists he’s waiting on President Donald Trump to signal whether he’d sign the bills before bringing them up for a vote. This is self-defeating on two levels. First, the president is not exactly known for making up his mind on this issue. After the shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the president briefly suggested actually taking guns away from the populace. He backed off of that fairly quickly. After the most recent atrocities, Trump has hit a broad range of viewpoints concerning background checks. Getting a commitment from the president isn’t likely.
But, secondly, McConnell shouldn’t be worried about that. If the legislation never comes up for a vote in the Senate, it doesn’t matter where the president stands on the issue. Why not take a vote and put the responsibility on the man who was elected to make these decisions?
This creates a self-fulfilling stall-out, that again postpones possible solutions while the next mass shooting looms on the horizon. It’s also a terrible way of running the federal government. There aren’t many issues that poll at 80 percent or higher. The people are telling their government they want action. It’s a layup being portrayed as a half-court prayer because it will upset the gun lobby and chalk up a few political points for the Democratic Party. Neither of those are good reasons to bury legislation a clear, bipartisan majority of the American people want passed.
These bills are not a magic solvent that will stop all future gun violence. But at some point McConnell and Trump need to recognize the basic value of human life over whatever else incentivizes them. If these bills stop one Sandy Hook, one Las Vegas or one Aurora, then it’s worth it.