Why Did the Senate Gun Bill Fail? Good People Did Nothing


“How can something have 90% support and yet not happen?,” asked President Obama at his remarks today on the Senate’s inability to cross the 60-vote line to get universal background legislation passed.

Many have already begun to lash out at the Democratic senators that refused to support the legislation and the usual liberal critique of Republicans is underway, but the real reason why the gun reform failed today is what no one wants to say. The gun legislation failed because Americans who wanted it did nothing, and if history is any indicator, will do nothing in the future on this issue.

Yes, 90% of Americans when asked about their support of universal background checks supported it, but did 90% of Americans convey that message to their elected representatives? The answer here is clearly no. If 207 million Americans, 90% of the adult aged population in the United States, called, sent letters, and/or visited their elected representatives, universal background checks would have passed. Instead, 90% of us depended on the tragedy of Newtown, the polling data, and the moral conviction of the moment. We did nothing, and because we did nothing, special interests — particularly the NRA — continue to set gun policy in the United States against the will of 90% of Americans.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of our collective responsibility for what happened today, not only did we do nothing before the legislation failed, we will likely do nothing afterwards, except complain. Elected officials know that 80% or more of them will be re-elected even though they rejected the will of 90% of the country today. We will not boot them out of office on this vote, we will not force them to answer for their votes when they return to their states this weekend, and we will not withdraw our financial support. When parents or friends disapprove of a child or friend’s actions, but says nothing to cause them to question their decisions, or correct their mistakes, we call them enablers.

We then are enablers for elected representatives. By refusing to hold them accountable for their votes, we send the message that even when you vote against the overwhelming majority of this country’s interest, you will not be held accountable, you will not be forced to grapple with our disapproval, and you will more than likely be voted back to office to disavow us once again.

Now, I am not suggesting that the power and influence of the NRA is not significant, nor I am ignoring the reality that a lot of people worked really hard to try to get this bill passed, but I am challenging the rest of the 90%, myself included, to do something when we believe in something. Furthermore, I will leave to others the challenge of arguing with dissenters of gun reform about the merits of universal background checks, ammunition limits, and the assault weapons ban. Except to say that the fact that just because one piece of legislation cannot end all gun-related crime, is no excuse for choosing to do nothing. Even if gun reform only stops a few gun-related deaths, those lives are worth saving.

So, what will we do now? If history is any indicator we will do nothing, as I have described, but I do hope that I am wrong. I hope that I am wrong about America being a country where everyone thinks something should happen, but only a few are willing to make it happen.