Liberal gun control advocates are engaged in a prolonged public temper tantrum over the U.S. Senate defeat of their watered-down gun control measure.
Gone is the new civility they imposed in 2009 on Tea Party senior citizens who filled town hall meetings angrily protesting Obamacare and runaway federal spending. Instead, the grief-stricken liberals are flogging the NRA and the senators who voted “nay,” calling them “cowards” and “liars.”
“What else can you say when lawmakers defy the wishes of millions of Americans out of fear of high powered lobbyists … And for what? Re-election, so these cowardly senators facing competition back home can continue their careers in ‘public service’? Do you see the irony here, do you see the rank selfishness?” editorialized The Frederick News-Post.
After the disappointed liberals go to a quiet corner and calm down, they’ll realize that their defeat was primarily due to the U.S. Constitution, not the NRA.
Yes, 45 U.S. Senators thwarted the majority will of the American public because, instead, they obeyed the majority will of the folks back home in the states they each represent. That’s the way it’s supposed to work under the U.S. Constitution.
Our Founding Fathers worried about momentary popular passions being rapidly exploited into misguided laws. So, as we all know, the Founders spiked our federal government with numerous “checks and balances” to slow down and derail such bills.
In addition to making laws subject to presidential veto and judicial review, the Founders required that a bill pass two legislative chambers, one of which (the U.S. Senate) is largely insulated from the popular will.
This insulation is provided in two ways: First, senators enjoy six-year terms, and second, Senate membership is apportioned equally between the 50 states regardless of population. So, California and Wyoming each have two U.S. Senators, although in the U.S. House of Representatives (which is based solely on population), California has 53 representatives and Wyoming has only one.
Adhering to Rahm Emmanuel’s infamous dictum that “a crisis should never be allowed to go to waste,” the gun control lobby pounced on the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy to ram new firearms restrictions through Congress. Quick, quick, do it now before the national angst wears off, pleaded President Obama and the media.
But, just as the Founding Fathers intended, the legislative checks and balances delayed and ultimately defeated the rush to gun control. Meanwhile, vindicating the Founders and reaffirming their wisdom, gun control’s support began receding despite the gun controllers’ gross exploitation of the Sandy Hook victims and their families.
Just after Sandy Hook, 90 percent of Americans supported stricter gun control. By February support had dipped to 61 percent in a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, and by late April only 49 percent backed the Senate bill (45 percent opposed), according to a USA Today poll.
This week a Pew/Washington Post poll found that only 47 percent of Americans were unhappy that the Senate bill failed (39 percent were happy). And a Fox News poll placed gun control far behind the economy, jobs, the federal deficit, terrorism and health care as a national priority.
By the time the gun control bill reached the U.S. Senate, enough opposition had grown in the less-populated states (thanks to the NRA) that the gun controllers couldn’t defeat a filibuster. But this national minority of gun rights supporters prevailed only because they had superior (and unequal) voting power thanks to the Senate’s two-per-state membership.
Now, compare that to state governments where every legislature is 100 percent based on population. In the early 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” decision [Baker vs. Carr] mandated that state legislatures be apportioned by population, not by counties. So state legislatures lack the check and balance of a U.S. Senate insulated from the popular impulse du jour.
That’s one reason why a strict gun control measure became Maryland law this year. Only 34 percent of Maryland homes own firearms. So, the 66 percent of non-owners, who needed “to do something” in response to Sandy Hook, felt comfortable restricting other people’s rights. The merits were irrelevant.
Because of the 66 percent-34 percent split, the folks who successfully petitioned gay marriage, The Dream Act and gerrymandering to referendum last year are begging gun owners to challenge Maryland’s new gun law in the courts, not at the ballot box. A gun control referendum will lose at the polls in 2014. Yes, a legal challenge also is likely to lose (gun ownership is not a “preferred right” like free speech). But in 2012 the petition-to-referendum folks learned a lesson: Choose your battles wisely. Last year they brought too many bills to referendum and, consequently, lost them all on Election Day.
For the 2014 election they want to forgo gun control, a sure loser, and petition death penalty repeal and compulsory teacher union dues to referendum. Why? Both measures were unpopular with a majority of Marylanders but were passed, anyway, by a state legislature that arrogantly “thwarted the majority will.”
In Maryland, bringing an unpopular bill to referendum is the people’s ultimate “check and balance.”
Blair Lee is CEO of the Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.