Congress failed on guns twice in one week

Published 11:18 am Wednesday, June 29, 2016

by John Micek

It’s not often that you see Congress completely abdicate its responsibility to govern twice in one week.

But, as has so often been remarked this year, we’re living in unusual times.

Given the opportunity to recover its colossal gun control fumble, the Republican-led U.S. Senate bobbled the ball yet again on Thursday with a vote on a compromise “no fly/no buy” bill sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Yes, 52 senators managed to vote in favor of Collins’ proposal, which was enough to allow further consideration of the proposal. But the bill, which would ban people on terrorism watch lists from buying guns, ended up eight critical votes shy of the 60-vote threshold needed for passage. And if you don’t think the bar was set purposefully high — you’re fooling yourself.

“It’s extremely frustrating there was an opportunity to get things accomplished here,” U.S Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), one of the few sane GOP voices on gun control said this week.

Frustrating is one word for it. Another one that rushes to mind is “ridiculous.” And while we’re at it, “incompetent” also works.

That the Senate has been unable to get its act together to pass a bill that keeps suspected terrorists from buying guns even as it provides due process for people that end up government watch lists, is one of the great head-scratchers of our time.

That it happened in the wake of a dramatic occupation of the U.S. House floor by Democrats, led by U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon, aimed at forcing votes on gun-control, makes it all the more frustrating.

And, yes, the murderous loon who mowed down 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando would not have been stopped by such a terror-ban. He was investigated and the FBI passed on him.

But the next terrorism-inspired madman (or woman) who might decide to follow his lead could well be stopped with such a ban.

That’s not hard to decipher. The Orlando shooter, you’ll recall, legally purchased the semi-automatic rifle he used in his deadly spree.

It’s also already well-documented that ISIS has told its homegrown followers to take advantage of our porous gun laws to assemble their own, personal arsenals.

And when even the NRA thinks that (with proper due-process protections) that it’s a good idea, that’s saying something.

Because they hate everything.

“My starting point is two, simple ideas: If a person is so dangerous that we will not allow them to board a plane … they should not be able to walk into a gun store and buy a firearm,” Toomey said.

Toomey knows first-hand how tough it is to get a gun-control bill through the Senate.

In 2013, in response to the Sandy Hook shootings, he joined with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Toomey to offer an ultimately unsuccessful mandatory background check bill.

During the Senate’s gun-control votes this week, Manchin tried, and failed, to offer a similar measure.

Toomey, himself, took a run at a middle-ground bill that imposed a “no fly/no buy” ban, but also provided for an annual review of government watch lists. It failed to garner any support and wasn’t among the four proposals the Senate rejected last week.

Toomey’s currently locked in the political fight of his life with Democrat Katie McGinty, a former senior aide to Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf. His is one of five seats Democrats need to flip to retake the Senate in the fall.

She and her surrogates, including former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, hammered Toomey for playing politics. But as a candidate, McGinty has it easy. She has no responsibility to govern. That makes posturing easy. But it also accomplishes nothing.

Toomey, meanwhile, wants to work to improve the Collins bill. Whether that’s enough to actually flip the Republican no votes on Collins’ bill is unclear.

“There are a lot of Republicans who believe we need to address this gap in our security,” Toomey said.

But as the past couple of weeks have demonstrated, it’s a long walk from belief to putting those beliefs into action. That requires something even tougher to find than 60 votes.

It requires backbone.

An award-winning political journalist, JOHN MICEK is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at