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Freedom Wins Round One

Monday, July 15, 2013

On April 17, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators refused to bend to unrelenting pressure from the anti-gun media and anti-gun politicians, including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, all of whom urged the passage of new restrictions on our freedoms. Instead, these lawmakers held to their principles and rejected emotional blackmail in favor of real solutions to protect our children and communities.

I am also proud to say that gun owners made the difference by making it clear that new restrictions on our rights are not acceptable. That activism gave our pro-gun allies in the Senate the backing they needed to withstand the political pressures and unfair attacks.

The debate was on a bill, S. 649, which was brought to the Senate floor after four months of intense pressure following the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

The bill could have focused on meaningful solutions to fix our broken mental health system, increase the prosecution of violent criminals and secure our schools.

Instead, it pushed a so-called “universal background check” system, authored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would criminalize private firearm transfers between law-abiding citizens.

Left out of the “compromise” bill were Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s, D-Calif., proposed ban on hundreds of common semi-automatic firearms and a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Senators were promised an opportunity to bring up a number of amendments on the senate floor, including the semi-auto and magazine bans. Under the procedure for S. 649 adopted by the Senate, every amendment required 60 votes to pass.

The bill, even with intense lobbying by Obama, Biden, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, immediately faced strong opposition. In fact, it became clear that Sen. Schumer’s background check provision was so extreme that it made passage of the overall bill unlikely. In a misguided effort to save the legislation, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., along with Schumer, proposed an amendment in the hope of winning additional votes. That amendment sought to extend checks only to “commercial” sales of firearms, such as those at gun shows, or to guns advertised in print or on the Internet. But even that language was full of uncertainties. Is an email offering of a firearm an advertisement? What about a Facebook post seen only by your friends, or a listing in your gun club’s newsletter? These questions, and many more, made the amendment unacceptable for gun owners.

Unfortunately, neither s. 649, nor the Manchin-Toomey-Schumer amendment, would make any real difference in crime. The tragedies of Tucson, Aurora and Newtown were constantly offered as reasons that we need to pass new gun laws, but even the supporters of the bill admitted this new law would do nothing to prevent those crimes or others like them in the future.

A few days ahead of the vote, Sen. Manchin admitted that his proposal would be ineffective. And Sen. Feinstein made the same concession during debate on the senate floor. “Let me be clear,” she said, “universal background checks are very important. I strongly support them but they would not have prevented the tragedy in Newtown.”

These statements prove that the real goal of the proponents of the bill was to advance the anti-gun agenda they have been working to enact for decades. Fortunately, the emotional pleas and cynical use of victims’ families failed to persuade enough senators to support them. The Manchin-Toomey-Schumer amendment garnered 56 votes, four short of the necessary 60.

A few minutes after the amendment was defeated, Sen. Feinstein rose to introduce her amendment to ban “assault weapons” and “large” magazines. She chose to use her allotted two minutes—and more—to level accusations of cowardice at colleagues who refused to join her anti-gun crusade. Feinstein also attacked the Senate’s 60-vote requirement, claiming that a simple majority should rule, even though 60 votes have long been needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

While she knew there were nowhere near 60 votes for her gun ban, Feinstein must have believed she would get at least 51. Yet her amendment only received 40 votes, 12 fewer than the last time she tried to pass a gun ban amendment.

As if to emphasize the rejection of gun and magazine bans, senators also rejected an amendment by anti-gun Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to ban standard capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. That amendment did a little better than Feinstein’s, but still won only minority support, with 46 votes in favor.

Pro-gun senators also brought NRA-supported amendments to the floor in an attempt to address real issues. Unfortunately, none of those cleared the 60-vote hurdle either.

The first was a comprehensive substitute by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. and others. That amendment sought to improve NICS and keep dangerously mentally ill individuals from obtaining guns. It included incentives for states to fully report appropriate criminal and mental health records to NICS, and to increase the prosecution of those who illegally attempt to buy guns. And it included grants for school security improvements and the creation of school safety guidelines.

What it did not include were new restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. For that reason, anti-gun senators voted “no,” and the amendment fell eight votes short of passage. The rejection of this amendment by senators who for months “demanded” action, revealed that they were never interested in solving real problems, but only in passing more restrictions on our rights.

In a sign of just how much the anti-gun proponents had misread the situation, 57 senators voted for an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to establish interstate Right-to-Carry. The amendment—similar to proposals that have passed both houses of Congress in the last few years—would have allowed those who can legally carry firearms in their own states to carry in any other state that issues permits. This solid majority in favor of the right to carry, combined with the resounding defeat of the semi-auto and magazine bans, was a shock to the anti-gun establishment.

There is no question that you stunned the opponents of freedom. Just days before the vote, they thought victory was within reach. Much of the media had pushed the idea that passage of new gun control was inevitable, and clearly they believed their own propaganda.

But they didn’t take into account the dedication of American gun owners, who proved them wrong once again.

I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to contact your senators, urging them to reject new gun laws. Your efforts won the day, and it is because of you that our freedoms remain.

But we can take only measured comfort from our success in April, because our opposition has already announced new efforts to take away our rights.

In fact, in the moments after the defeat of the bill was apparent, President Obama launched an angry tirade in the Rose Garden. Obama promised that this fight is far from over—one thing on which we agree.

After the defeat of the amendments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sponsor of S. 649, pulled the bill from the floor before a final vote so it can be brought up again in the future. Obama’s political machine, “Organizing for America,” and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ “Americans for Responsible Solutions”, have promised to focus on defeating pro-Second Amendment senators in 2014. And billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to pump millions of dollars—pocket change for him—into a “super PAC” to target pro-gun senators in the next election.

But those groups and their leaders should realize that pro-Second Amendment senators stood with us, so we will stand with them, just as we have always stood with those who support the Second Amendment.

Over the last 20 years, gun owners have had tremendous success advancing our cause. The refusal of the Obama administration and anti-gun radicals in Congress to target guns during Obama’s first term is a testament to our strength. Obama’s re-election emboldened them, and the Newtown tragedy gave them a crisis to exploit. Since then, we have weathered a vicious anti-gun crusade from the national media and anti-gun politicians. In spite of that, we won the first round of this fight; but it is only the first round.

Our adversaries are well funded and as determined as ever to take away our freedoms. The fight ahead will be as difficult as any we have ever faced. For the Second Amendment to survive, we must continue to make our voices heard. The senate debate in April was an important victory, and if we continue to stand and fight together, I am confident that more victories will follow.  

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.