The Gun Control Failure Shows the Senate Works

The upper chamber worked just as the Founders designed it.

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In this video image from Senate Television, senators speak on the floor of the U.S. Senate during voting on an amendment to the budget resolution at the Capitol on Washington, Friday, March 22, 2013.

Until we know more about the suspects in the Boston marathon bombings, I'm going to hold off on commenting about how today's events will change either the immigration or gun control debates. But I do think this week's events will have an effect. Earlier this week, the left was despondent over the failure of the Democratic Senate to pass gun control legislation. That day was a “shameful day” – Washington was broken and the legislation was defeated because the “gun lobby and its allies willfully lied,” as the president put it. As we look back at the week, it’s obvious that the the problem wasn’t the gun lobby.

By the Founders’ design, all states get the same number of votes, regardless of population, in the U.S. Senate. As much as the Democrats would like heavily-populated states to have more votes than rural ones -- where the opposition to gun control is the strongest -- they do not. It’s no accident that the Democratic senators who voted against the bill were from Alaska, Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota.

(Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also voted against it but for procedural purposes, so he'd be able to bring the legislation back again for a second vote.) Washington isn't "broken" – the Senate worked just as the Founders designed it. When Democrats don't get their way, they like to say the system is broken.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

Polls show that most Americans are in favor of background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, yet the Manchin-Toomey universal background check legislation did not pass.  One Democratic congressman called the bill's defeat "inexplicable." Here's the president's explanation:

... Instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of "big brother" gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text.  But that didn't matter.

And unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

There's another explanation for why the "they're going to take our guns away" narrative persuaded so many people. It's because we've watched for four years as President Obama has sought to expand the federal government and create new bureaucracies. He's spoken often about the value of collective action over individual liberty. He's a big-government progressive who has resisted limiting the size and scope of government even in the face of massive deficits. He believes we need more, not fewer, regulations. He's made it pretty clear that he thinks Washington knows what's best for the rest of us. And we know how he feels about folks who "cling to guns."

It's only logical that people believe that universal background checks are just the first step, and that more and stricter gun regulation will follow from the Obama administration. "Sooner or later, we're going to get this right," the president predicted in his Rose Garden remarks after the defeat. Vice President Biden was quoted yesterday saying that the president would be moving forward with more executive actions; former Speaker Nancy Pelosi told The Hill that further gun legislation is "inevitable" and "a matter of time." That's why people think this is the beginning of a slippery slope. The administration has said so, and its past record of expanding the reach and scope of government suggests that the White House will not stop with background checks. It's not irrational or inexplicable at all.

If a Republican president had proposed universal background checks, most people would have believed it would end there and been all for it. A Republican supporting universal background checks would have been a Nixon-goes-to-China moment. But when Obama proposed them, the red flags went up everywhere – even in the Democratic Senate.