Senate Democrats are poised to introduce a sweeping set of gun reforms on Thursday, and they're ready to fight for it, too.
The package includes elements of several other failed gun reform efforts, like a proposal to close the loophole that allows people purchasing firearms from private sellers or gun show vendors to skirt background check requirements and another to extend the window of time the F.B.I. has to conduct a background check before the purchaser is approved by default.
(Under current law, if the background check takes longer than three days, the sale is automatically allowed to proceed. This loophole is what allowed Charleston shooter Dylann Roof to legally obtain a gun.)
The bill is kind of the policy equivalent of Frankenstein's monster, if Frankenstein's monster was actually really good, and people really liked it, and it also had the capacity to prevent gun deaths every year.
That's the good news. The bad news is that this sensible reform package—provisions on gun safety that the overwhelming majority of American people, including gun owners, support—is utterly and unmistakably doomed. It stands little to no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. It stands even less of a chance of being taken up by the House, where the Republican majority is even stronger.
Senate Democrats know this, and are pushing ahead anyway.
"I’ve started to reach out to senators and talk about what can be done to advance the cause of background checks while Republicans are in charge for the next year or so," Minority Leader Harry Reid said earlier this week. "But one thing is clear. To pass background checks, we need Republicans to stop acting as puppets of the N.R.A."
Though passing reform doesn't seem politically possible in this Congress, Democrats are intent on getting their Republican colleagues on the record as opposing basic gun safety provisions that their constituents support. They have also indicated that they will block votes on other bills until the Senate takes up the reform package.
It's spectacle. It's not going to help the bill pass. And it's exactly what proponents of gun reform should be doing.
The last time lawmakers collectively dedicated this kind of energy to gun safety was in 2013, after Adam Lanza brought four of the firearms from his 11 gun arsenal to Sandy Hook Elementary and murdered 20 children and six adults. As the country reeled from such incomprehensible violence, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers—led by Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Patrick Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania—introduced a modest package of reforms that reflected, at least in part, what a majority of Americans wanted to see happen in the wake of the massacre.
One of the key elements of that package was the expansion of background checks, which is also a central component of the new proposal.
Here's how a majority of Americans, including gun-owners, felt about strengthening that system in 2013, according to a survey from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research:
The basics: 88.8% of Americans supported universal background checks, including 84.3% of gun owners and 73.7% of registered members of the NRA.
A staggering level of consensus. But the bill still failed.
Two years later, Johns Hopkins revisited these survey questions to take the national temperature at a moment when the public wasn't as close to a mass shooting of that scale. (Those moments, however, seem increasingly hard to come by.) Researchers found essentially the same results. The 2015 data revealed that 83.7% of people supported universal background checks, including 84.7% of gun owners.
That's where we are today, with Democrats poised to fight for a package of bills that stand basically no chance of passing despite long-standing public consensus on the issue. On one side, there stands an overwhelming majority of the American public, including the rising number of families who have lost loved ones because our gun laws allow for easy, ready access to deadly weapons. On the other side, there are others, a great many Republicans in Congress, who—in the face of nine deaths in Oregon, two deaths in Virginia, nine deaths in South Carolina—continue to shrug their shoulders and do nothing.
So far, "do nothing" has won. Democrats seem ready to do something, even if that something is a symbolic gesture to keep opponents of gun reform from looking the other way as the public tells them they want to live in a less deadly country.