The past few days have been very exciting for liberty activists, especially those with a right-to-keep-and-bear-arms orientation. In case you haven't had the time to follow the situation blow-by-blow (though I hope you had time to call your senators!), here's the sequence of events:
So what does this mean? Well, it means a couple things. First, both sides went into this thinking they might get something they wanted, and they might get something they didn't much like. Their own vote counting, on both sides, showed that the situation was very close.
No one could force passage of a clean bill; the anti-gun forces knew they couldn't get a majority in favor of their most important bills (closing the gun show "loophole" and the assault weapons ban) by themselves, but if they offered some political cover by making it a "compromise" bill then they had a chance. Pro-gun forces couldn't move their bill forward by itself, due to filibuster rules, but they also knew that they had enough votes to pass the bill in a straight vote. They also knew the House is more firmly pro-gun.
So the deal is struck. S1805 gets it's straight vote, no filibuster, but the antis can offer a collection of amendments. Here's where it gets tricky. Some pro-gun strategists think the best hope is to pass the bill with whatever amendments, then try to strip those amendments in the house. Others take the no-compromise position and want to kill the whole bill if it accumulates more than token gun control.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners sends out email warning its members that the NRA is brokering a backroom deal to get the legislation passed, with the AWB and/or the gun shows bill attached, in the hopes that it can be stripped out in the house. This is a risky legislative strategy, and the NRA's record is far from spotless; suspicions are understandable but lacking in proof.
This warning sparked a LOT of opposition from within the gun-owning Internet community -- enough that the NRA started sending out emails of its own denying the accusation, but leaving themselves a suspiciously large amount of wiggle room. So, Senators are getting deluged by gun owners urging them to pass a clean bill, and at least some of these are specifying "but if the AWB is attached, kill it." Maybe some antis are calling in, too. Hard to say.
The three big votes are the gun show loophole, the assault weapons ban, and the whole package (S1805 with amendments). The two anti-gun amendments pass, and are attached to the bill. We lost those votes, folks. If we could have garnered another 3 votes our way, we could have had a reasonable liability protection bill in place without any significant gun control attached.
So, we lost there. But, we also won, and we won something big -- something I certainly did not expect, and something that damn near floored me when it happened.
Larry Craig, as I understand it the original author of S1805, stood up on the Senate floor and urged his colleagues to vote against his own bill. It was his bill, and he took personal responsibility to putting it out of its misery after the anti-gun amendments had tortured it. That takes balls. I'm proud of him for standing up and making that call. He made this tough decision and he got a vote of 90+ against his own bill. That's the anti-gunners voting against and that's the pro-gunners voting against; the ones left in the middle were the ones who wanted a compromise.
Why is this such a big deal? Remember the pro-gun strategists were saying they could kill the provisions in the House! That's the NRA, folks, who issued a half-hearted denial of exactly that intent after the RMGO called them on it. For a long time, compromise has been the order of the day for the NRA and for pro-gun forces in the Senate. The Brady Bill, and the Assault Weapons Ban, were both examples of compromise at work. Compromise a little here, a little there -- one slice of rights at a time.
But now that's changed. Pro-gun forces have just drawn a line in the sand. "This far, and no farther."
I may be wrong, and this may not represent a sea change in Senate firearms policy. In any case, the upcoming elections are sure to shake things up. But if I am right, it's an encouraging sign, because it means that our senators are listening to us. The NRA was not telling senators to kill the bill; they wanted it to pass even with some gun control and could barely muster straight-faced opposition when called on it. Gun Owners of America, bless their no-compromise hearts, couldn't even get me a postcard with the wrong bill name on it before the final vote. (I'll still send it in; can't hurt.)
Ladies and gentlemen... welcome to the 21st century. We've been given a republic... if we can keep it.
So we've been fought hard, and we've managed to preserve the status quo. We might need to tell our Senators how to vote again on this issue, but this time we held the line, and I don't think they'll be eager to try again without the political cover the immunity bill would have offered. We lost some votes, to be sure, and we didn't get our bill out; but we also blocked the assault weapons ban. We don't have to win a vote to get that ban to expire; we just have to hold the line. And that is exactly what we did.
Please take the time to find out how your Senators voted and give them a call to congratulate or chastise them as appropriate. When you do so, please indicate that you supported a clean S1805, but you agree with the decision to kill the bill once the assault weapons ban or the gun show amendment were attached. We wouldn't want them to think you were calling for the Brady Bunch, after all.
You might want to contact Larry Craig and thank him for his courageous stance on voting against his own bill. We need to show that we understand that kind of hard decision and that it was the right decision.