Note to gun control activists: Don't blame the filibuster

AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe

We once again find ourselves digging in, fighting tooth and nail to preserve our right to keep and bear arms. Following two horrific mass shootings–with yet a third just happening on Wednesday–we’re going to have to fight.

Any success we have will probably come about because Republican senators filibustered the bills, effectively blocking them.

However, as James Wallner notes over at Reason, any failure won’t be because of the filibuster.

The wanton killing of 19 students and two teachers during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last week has jump-started efforts on Capitol Hill to pass legislation combating gun violence in the United States. Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the Senate, and Republicans have so far opposed their leading proposals. Proponents of strict new gun laws are arguing that if the Senate fails to pass a gun bill, it will be because a minority of mostly-Republican senators filibustered the effort.

But the prospect of being defeated by a filibuster isn’t stopping some senators from trying to get something passed. Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.), noted that Democrats are “going to extend a hand of partnership to those who have been sitting on the sidelines.” Murphy has teamed up with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D–Ariz.), to convene a bipartisan group of 10 senators—five from each side of the aisle—to negotiate a compromise bill that expands background checks to cover all gun purchases and prohibits people from purchasing a firearm if the government determines that they pose a danger to themselves or others. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) stated that this joint effort is likely “the only approach that will result in law.”

Democrats were also quick to blame Republicans if their effort to pass a gun bill again stalls in the Senate. Anticipating such an outcome, Democrats have threatened to force senators to a vote if the bipartisan talks fail. Murphy warned Republicans that Democrats are determined to get them on the record. Outside of the Capitol on May 26 at a gun control rally Murphy said, “One way or the other, we are going to have a debate [in the Senate]. We are going to force [senators] to tell America which side they are on.”

Democrats plan to force Republicans to filibuster a gun bill if they don’t come to the negotiating table. The prospect has re-ignited opposition to the filibuster among Democrats and progressive activists. And it has triggered calls for Senate Democrats to abolish it. But it will not be the filibuster’s fault if a gun bill stalls in the Senate.

Wallner notes that Democrats could have pushed for debate on the bills already before the Senate anytime in the past year, but haven’t. They could have done plenty to at least make an effort to get these bills passed, but have instead just railed at Republicans for not cooperating when they’ve really done nothing for Republicans to cooperate with.

Now, I’m fine with this. I don’t want either of those bills–both are universal background check bills–to pass. I don’t think they’ll do a thing to make us safer and will only serve to inconvenience law-abiding gun buyers.

After all, there was nothing in most mass shooters’ backgrounds that would have stopped them from buying a firearm. Further, criminals rarely buy guns from law-abiding citizens conducting otherwise lawful face-to-face transfers.

So it won’t do anything to make anyone safer.

Yet that debate could have happened already. It didn’t because Democrats simply didn’t want to fool with it.

Now, that said, I do think the filibuster will come into play. I also think that Democrats shouldn’t blame the filibuster when those measures fail.

However, I happen to believe that the reason they shouldn’t is because of their long and unaddressed history of taking and taking from Second Amendment advocates while offering absolutely nothing in return. Their idea of compromise on gun measures is simply to not take as much as they’d like, which doesn’t sound like a great deal to those of us in the cheap seats.

Over and over again, they took from us. They wanted to restrict more and more of the Second Amendment and we let them. We pushed back just enough to keep them from banning everything, and they called it a compromise.

But what have we actually gained? Nothing.

It won’t be the filibuster that dooms the bills. It will be gun rights supporters remembering history that does it.