Even Chris Murphy knew that the nearly 15 hours he'd spent standing wasn't enough. After securing gun control votes on two of "the least controversial provisions possible," the junior senator from Connecticut called his Thursday filibuster an "insufficient response" to Sunday’s Orlando nightclub massacre that claimed 49 victims.
You can take Murphy's admission one of two ways. The more optimistic read is the better story: A young senator, elected weeks before his state was forever scarred by a mass killing in an elementary school, takes up the mantle of "sensible gun reform," as Democrats call it, and pulls a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. And he gets results!
Well, that is if you count votes on two provisions that both failed last December "results."
I do see this glass as half-empty. My disappointment stems less from cynicism than from frustration at an incremental approach. And Murphy's filibuster didn't prove that Congress is finally willing to act on guns so much as it showed that it takes these kinds of dramatics just to start the conversation.
Admittedly, it's inspiring to see Murphy and Democratic allies like Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren trying to get Congress to do something — anything — about gun control. But as Murphy wrapped up his remarks next to a picture of Sandy Hook victim Dylan Hockley, all I could think about was the daunting challenge that still lies ahead. It took this much effort to get votes on two things: an expansion of background checks and a measure that seeks to prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons. The latter is simply awful, as my colleague Ana Marie Cox has noted, and neither would have prevented what happened at Pulse Orlando on Sunday morning — the shooter passed background checks when he bought his Sig Sauer MCX rifle and 9mm handgun in retail stores, just like any regular American could. Imagine what it will require to get Republicans to agree to vote — just to vote! — on bills that, heaven forbid, might actually help prevent the next mass shooting.
Congress is the most powerful enabler of gun violence in America, unmoved from their Second Amendment alarmism even by the slaughter of 49 people by a terrorist using a weapon of war that he purchased legally. Voting these elected officials out is of primary importance for any effective gun reform agenda to progress. Before we can talk about ways to have fewer shootings, Congress needs fewer cowardly Democrats — and fewer Republicans, period.
The entire House of Representatives, of course, is up for reelection in November. Twenty-four of the 34 Senate seats being contested are Republican, secured during the great tea-party wave of 2010. The GOP won control of the Senate that year, but with the indefensible and severely unpopular Donald Trump running at the top of their ticket, they could suffer some significant losses — if not outright lose control — in 2016. Democrats need to gain five seats, which is possible; Republican incumbents face tough races in Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Illinois, and (potentially) Florida, for example. Perhaps, if Democrats regain the majority, progressive legislators who haven't yet stepped up might find the strength in numbers that they have so far failed to find in their consciences.
And lest we forget: Defeating these Republicans, especially on a gun-control platform, also means defeating the National Rifle Association. Anyone who's played with puppets knows it's not easy to get them to sit on their hands, so the NRA has accomplished quite a feat and should be applauded for its skill at stagecraft, if nothing else. The GOP would rather endorse hyperbolic lies about the Second Amendment to keep people buying firearms than take even superficial measures to address gun violence. PSA, guys: No, the Democrats are not coming for "all your guns" and/or seeking to abolish the constitutional right to bear arms. If only they were!
I don't say that lightly. The United States was born violent, and it has remained so through the centuries. Whether that violence manifested in war, on our streets, or in our homes, guns have always been the accelerant. Firearms assuage our insecurities, filling the abscesses created by our bigotries. Scrapping the outdated Second Amendment and replacing it with a bill of gun rights that fits our 21st-century reality doesn't even feel that radical. But it will take decades of curing our obsession with guns to make that a possibility.
What can be done now, though, is to start laying the groundwork for policies that will stem the flow of weapons. I'm all for enhanced mental health training and restrictions on gun sales to domestic abusers, for instance. And there's just no reason anyone needs or should have access to military-grade weaponry for personal use. Frankly, I don't even want law enforcement to have a weapon like the one used in Orlando. Whether banning assault weapons is the solution to our mass-shooting epidemic is debatable at best, but what's not is that the ready availability of all guns needs to be reassessed. That can't be done until we have a Congress with fewer Republicans around to muck up the works.
Murphy, at one point during his filibuster, had this to say:
I think the question is: Why are we here? Why did you ask for this job if you didn't want to confront the big questions and the big problems? Nobody denies that this is an epidemic of criminal proportions. Nobody denies that this is happening only in the United States and nowhere else in the industrialized world. Nobody denies the crippling, never-ending grief that comes with a loved one being lost. And yet we do nothing. Yet we just persist this week as if it's business as usual. Why did you sign up for this job if you are not prepared to use it — if you're not prepared to use it to try to solve big problems?
I'm all for a healthy partisan debate, one that might actually improve bills. But we're facing a public health crisis now that one party is content to ignore for the benefit of one private industry. It's part and parcel of the Republican Party's ongoing sabotage of government works, and it's nothing short of an abdication of duty for those elected.
I'm past questioning the integrity of those members of Congress who do nothing about guns. Truthfully, I question their intelligence. You'd think that people who want to stay in power would wake up to realize that American voters are warming to gun restrictions. Certainly, a liberal alliance that could effectively combat the NRA is needed to push legislation, but we have work to do first in November if there's any hope to get that legislation passed.
We know where the problem lies. None of us should be content to await disappointment. In the coming months, the most urgent action citizens can take for gun control will be inside a polling booth.