As a resident of Greater Boston, I realize that most of the public focus this week has been on the bombings at the Boston Marathon, which killed three and seriously injured dozens. The story is likely to dominate the headlines for days or weeks to come.
But there was a bitter irony embedded in this week’s news roundup, which included a Senate vote to filibuster legislation that would have expanded mandatory background checks for gun sales.
The bill, which comes amid a grim and incessant parade of mass shootings (most recently the slaughter of 20 first graders in Newtown, Connecticut) is a compromise forged by two NRA-approved senators, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. It enjoys the support of 90 percent of the American public.
As a result of the Republican-led filibuster, we can expect to see more shootings by high-risk individuals who might otherwise have been prevented, or at least deterred, from purchasing weapons. More preventable deaths. More victims — adults and children from all walks of life — gunned down by design or by accident.
In this case, though, the culprits aren’t hiding. They are the 45 United States senators, including four Democrats, who voted against even allowing a majority up-or-down vote on the measure.
As an American who’s been tracking the folly of our political theater since Watergate, I’ve grown accustomed to craven political calculation. It’s more or less the religion of the Beltway. But I’ve yet to see an abrogation of the common will more brazen and despicable than this vote.
It would be easy enough to blame the psychopathic profiteers who fund the NRA and its sickening propaganda machine. But those folks are private citizens, and corporations, behaving in their own interest. They can only answer to what remains of their conscience.
The senators who voted to support this filibuster are supposed to answer to the people who elected them. That’s how democracy works. Or, in this case, doesn’t work.
None of the Democratic senators in question — Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — offered any sort of coherent rationale for supporting the filibuster.
Actually, Baucus offered a one-word response: “Montana.”
He and Pryor and Begich are all up for election next year. They are clearly convinced that bucking the NRA will get them smeared as gun-stealing socialist homosexuals who urinate on copies of the second amendment while listening to Jay Z with President Obama. Simply put: They care more about the gun lobby than their constituents.
The only way to fight this kind of bald corruption is by taking direct aim at the cowards in question.
I hereby call on all the major gun-control advocacy groups to focus on a single objective: a series of direct petitions aimed at these four democrats, as well as Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who supported the filibuster despite his friendship with Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in the head at a campaign event two years ago.
The petitions should be simply worded.
I, the undersigned, being a lawfully registered voter in the great state of Senator [fill-in the blank] pledge not to vote for him/her until such as time as he/she approves a majority vote on expanded background checks for firearms.
This may sound facile. But if Max Baucus wakes up in a week to find that 200,000 of his constituents have signed this pledge, he’ll be left with no choice but to reconsider his vote. After all, the total number of votes he needed to win his last election was 219,000.
It’s sad that we’ve reached this point in American democracy, where our elected officials can pander so flagrantly to a special interest with no fear of reprisal. But that’s where we are.
Most of us can agree that the filibuster is an abusive practice, and that the gun lobby acts against the greater interest of our public safety. But the ultimate blame for this travesty lies with the senators themselves. They need an unmistakable reminder of who put them in office — and who can throw them out.