Tyranny of the Minority Sinks Meaningful Gun Control Legislation

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Crime, Culture, Law, Opinion, Politics

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Published on April 20, 2013 with 4 Comments

Cartoon by David Horsey

Cartoon by David Horsey

By Ralph E. Stone

April 20, 2013

Given the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, the shootings at a supermarket near Tucson, the pleas for gun control legislation by the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, and the testimony by for Representative Gabrielle Giffords, victim of the supermarket shootings, you would think that reasonable gun control legislation would likely pass in the U.S. Senate. Regrettably, it is not to be.

Legislation strengthening background checks — supported by 90 percent of Americans — has been defeated in the Senate 54 to 46.

The ban on dozens of military-style assault weapons was also defeated by a vote of 40 to 60; a bipartisan amendment to stiffen penalties for “straw purchasers,” 58 to 42; and an amendment to limit the size of ammunition magazines, 54-46.

It was a shameful moment in the Senate.  Failed gun control legislation has again fallen victim to the tyranny of the minority.

Then again, any gun control legislation would have faced an uncertain future in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Except for the proposed assault weapons ban, the remaining gun control legislation received a majority in the Senate.  Why then didn’t they pass?  Because the Senate failed to reform its filibuster rule and as long as the filibuster rule stands, gun control, or any legislation for that matter, can be defeated by a minority — 41 votes —  or never even come to a vote.

As majority leader, Senator Reid set the rules of the Senate prior to the current term of Congress.  However, he allowed the super majority requirement — 60 votes — prior to any meaningful vote to stand and, as a result, preserved the threat of a filibuster, stating, “I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold… With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn’t and shouldn’t be like the House.”  Thus, Senator Reid bears much responsibility for the defeat of pending gun control legislation in the Senate.

What is the U.S. Senate filibuster rule anyway?  It usually refers to any dilatory or obstructive tactics used to prevent a measure from being brought to a vote.  Senate Rule XXII permits a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, and unless “three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn” (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture.  In recent years, the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed.

Until members of Congress are penalized at election time for opposing gun control legislation, senators, fearful of the National Rifle Association, will likely continue to use the filibuster rule to doom any future gun control legislation in the Senate.

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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