Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) ought to back off his threat to filibuster a vote in the U.S. Senate on reasonable gun-safety measures — that is, if he hopes to run for president someday, or even get re-elected in his own state.
National polls show strong support — more than 80 percent — for comprehensive background checks. In Florida, nine of 10 people want background checks for all gun sales.
In fact, no U.S. senator who wants to appeal to moderates and appear in touch with the American people can afford to make an unconscionable, and cowardly, attempt to prevent a debate on compromise gun measures, including expanded background checks for buyers.
That’s especially true for more-centrist Republicans who represent swing states, such as Ohio Republican Rob Portman. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will need 60 votes in the Senate today to avoid a filibuster.
Mr. Portman was among the senators targeted by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, in TV ads that promote legislation to reduce gun violence. His voice and vote are needed to help make Ohio and the nation safer, and less likely to suffer the kind of horrific mass murders that bloodied Newtown and Columbine.
Americans are well ahead of their representatives in Congress. What senators should really worry about now is whether endless obstruction will dilute any gun-safety measure to the point of impotence.
A proposal to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban, for example, appeared probable following the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Newtown, Conn., last December. Now the ban, as an amendment to the package, has been dropped. How soon we forget.
Nevertheless, too much is at stake to allow the perfect to prevent the good — or even minimal progress.
As many as 40 percent of gun transfers now occur privately without background checks. Expanding checks to private sales would help close a huge hole in the system that allows guns to flow from legal to illegal hands. Such measures would not wipe out illegal purchases, but would make them more difficult.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators announced compromise measures to expand background checks for gun buyers that should hit the Senate floor as soon as today. The agreement — brokered by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania — calls for expanding buyers’ background checks to gun shows and online sales. As it stands, a big chunk of gun sales occurs without the background checks conducted by licensed dealers.
Making gun trafficking a federal crime, as well as imposing record-keeping requirements that would help law enforcement track criminal gun use, are also in the package.
Some gun-rights advocates suggest that record-keeping laws will lead to a federal registry and confiscation. That’s nonsense, without a shred of evidence to support it. Such claims whip up the kind of hysteria that already has fomented a gun-buying frenzy — and firearms and ammunition shortages — at gun shops across the country, including Ohio.
Gun control has divided the nation. U.S. senators should conduct a legitimate, thoughtful debate that reflects the concerns and needs of all Americans.
But filibustering to prevent the debate from even opening would amount to a despicable dereliction of the Senate’s duty — and a complete cave-in to the gun lobby over the interests and hopes of the American people.
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