Expansion of Background Checks: Dead or on Delay?

The tragic and highly publicized issues with gun violence in this country have recently prompted huge debate in Congress.  Though originally centered on President Obama’s thorough gun control plan, current conversations have focused in on two specific aspects of the gun control discussion: ammunition control and universal background checks. But, just a few weeks ago, a Senate filibuster led many to believe that the gun debate had ended for good.

Some would say that this conclusion is a bit premature.  Even President Obama’s highly contested Affordable Care Act of 2010 went through hundreds of amendment iterations, narrowly missed a filibuster in the Senate, and was finally brought before the United States Supreme Court only to later become the law of the land. Universal background checks could very well see the same fate.

About the Vote

A deeper understanding of the vote provides some clarity on universal background checks and gun control legislation in general. The vote that failed actually wasn’t one to make universal background checks law. Instead, it was a “cloture” vote. Put simply, a cloture vote is required to break a filibuster.

So, now you are probably wondering what a filibuster is. Well, basic Senate rules allow for a simple majority to pass a bill in most cases. But, when one party, in this case Republicans – the minority in the Senate – filibusters or denies the debate on the bill all together, a cloture vote must be taken to move past the impasse.  Filibuster rules in the Senate require a three fifths cloture vote or 60/40 majority in order to move past the road block and instate a vote on the bill being filibustered. In this case, both parties have been bickering back and forth on gun control for months. Each has taken advantage of the filibuster for a multitude of reasons.

Now, what is most significant about these proceedings is that, while four Republicans voted in favor of the bill, five Democrats voted against it. One of those Democrats was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV). For Senator Reid, voting “no” affords him the ability to resurrect the background check debate in the future. This implies that there is an intention to introduce the bill or some derivation of it on the Senate floor again.

So, What Does It Mean? Really?

So, while this vote was originally reported as a “defeat” in direct discord with preferences of over 90% of American voters, a more fitting description would be a delay. With the vast number of citizens, those in favor of gun control and those against it alike, supporting a major change in the way we handle background checks, these recent events point to a continued debate on the topic.

What will be critical over the next few weeks and months will be a continued movement toward legitimate dialogue between the political players in the DC Beltway. They have little to lose by compromising on gun control because this is a non-election year.  Nonetheless, recent events inspire hope that the conversation on gun control will happen in the very near future.

Meanwhile, we will continue to see gun advocates spewing hatred as we did at last week’s NRA conventions in Texas. And, we will continue to see the families of Newtown victims imploring action from their congressional officers seemingly to no avail. But, with the contention this thick, there just needs to be a few courageous voices willing to rebuke party lines in favor of the American people. Senator John McCain (R – AZ) has attempted to be that voice. Just a few more and we might very well be on our way to justice, equity, and fairness in the in gun control conversation.

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