In reaction to the killings in Newtown, Connecticut, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre stated that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” (1) Instead of seeking common sense initiatives to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys, his organization recommended turning our schools into armed camps. This week’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard proved that mass shooters are not simply “targeting gun free zones.” (2) In fact, the presence of additional guns made this situation worse as Aaron Alexis appears to have used guns taken from some of his victims. (3) Unfortunately, if history is any lesson this fact will not change the Republican’s position in the debate.
Reasonable people can debate whether an amendment written in a time of bayonets covers modern armaments in a non-militia environment but there should be no argument that guns should be kept out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. It should be “reasonable to provide mandatory instant background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere, for anyone.” (4) However, existing laws did provide enough of a loophole to let Alexis begin his carnage with a shotgun that “he had recently legally purchased from a gun store in a Virginia suburb.” (5) This purchase was made “despite the apparent concerns over his mental health and past run-ins with the law.” (6)
The American People, including “half of all gun owners,” know that it is possible to pass gun laws without infringing on gun rights. (7) In a Washington Post - ABC News poll, 86% of respondents, supported a “law requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows or online” (8) Yet in April the Republicans in the Senate continued with their unprecedented use of the filibuster to block a bipartisan measure to “make it a little bit more difficult for people who have no legal right to have a gun” to obtain one through expanded background checks. (9)
In a betrayal to his progressive base, President Obama did not use another incident of mass carnage to renew a push for this common sense legislation. He simply “touched on the tragedy” and offered his condolences before proceeding with a previously arranged speech. (10) Due to Harry Reid’s procedural maneuvering, the Manchin-Toomey Background Check amendment is still technically alive in the Senate and could be brought up for another vote. This would force the Republicans to choose between the will of the American people and their fear of being primaried. It seems to me that the best time to do this is before Americans get distracted by another headline.
The next set of focus for the American media may have already been set up by John Boehner and the Republican majority in the House with their 42nd vote to undermine Obamacare. This time they “threaten to blow the whole thing up” by shutting down the government if they do not get their way. (11) This move was taken despite Boehner’s admission that “the American people don’t want the government shut down.” (12)
For a party supposedly focused on fiscal responsibility, a government shutdown seems like an odd strategy to pursue. When they last ran this play in the mid-1990s it cost the American taxpayers $1.4 billion. (13) It is also a policy that bets the farm on the soundness of their ideological belief in small government. If Americans clamour for the return of services as they start to disappear due to a funding dispute, it will be hard to make the case in the future that they agree with drowning that government in a bathtub.
Perhaps the reason that the Republicans are willing to put so much on the line to block Obamacare is that they are afraid that once it fully takes effect the American people might actually like the program. The constant negative campaign against the law is part of the reason that 53% of Americans view it as unfavorable. (14) However, included in this percentage are Progressives who felt that this law did not go far enough and wanted a single payer system. It also appears that the brand is more damaged than the actual provisions. When polled individually tax credits to small businesses to buy insurance, the closing of the Medicare doughnut hole, the creation of health insurance exchanges, the extension of dependent coverage, subsidy assistance to individuals, medicaid expansion, guaranteed issue and the employer mandate for large employers all enjoy support by the majority of respondents. (15) Only the individual mandate, which makes the whole plan possible, is opposed by a wide margin. It is also the part of the law that is most closely associated with the brand “Obamacare.”
The ironic part about the Republican’s opposition to Obamacare is that it is their plan. This is what they pushed when they opposed Clinton’s failed attempt at health care reform. It is based on what Romney instituted in Massachusetts and what polls have shown that 62% of its residents like. (16) This may be the best of example of what Bill Maher refers to as “Blacktracking...when you change your mind because Obama had agreed with you.” (17)
Gerrymandering will help to ensure that Boehner's majority will be safe in next year’s midterm elections. However, to become competitive again at the national level Republicans will need to sit at the grown-up table for issues such as gun control and health care reform. This will require them to marginalize the extreme elements of their party and start listening to the American people.
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