After weeks of intense lobbying on Capitol Hill gun control advocates suffered a stinging defeat this week…in part because of opposition from Wyoming’s two Republican senators. Matt Laslo reports from Washington.
MATT LASLO: After the amendment to put in place near universal background checks failed… families from Newton, Connecticut huddled together…hugging each other as tears streamed down their faces. Erica Lafferty’s mom is Dawn Hochsprung (Hock-sprung) - the principal who was gunned down protecting her students at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
ERICA LAFFERTY: “Next time there’s a mass shooting it’s going to be on their hands. It will be on their hands, absolutely.”
LASLO: Those hands Lafferty is talking about include Wyoming’s two senators who helped the G-O-P defeat all of the amendments to tighten the nation’s gun laws. From the anger in her voice you wouldn’t know that the Newtown families met with many Republicans in the wake of the massacre, including with Wyoming Senator John Barrasso.
JOHN BARRASSO: “It would break anyone’s heart. The tragedy broke the hearts of the American people when we heard about it, and you want to find a solution so that our schools are safe, and our families and communities are safe, and things like this don’t ever happen again.”
LASLO: While Barrasso says he grieved with the families, he also says he just couldn’t agree with their pleas for action.
BARRASSO: “I met with the families of so many of the victims of this horrible tragedy. And we all agree if you could wave a magic wand so that nothing like this ever happened again, we would all do that. I don’t think any of the legislation that’s being proposed here actually solves the underlying problem of violence in our society. All of us want safe kids, safe families, safe schools and I just don’t think this legislation does it.”
LASLO: Gun control advocates aren’t giving up though. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the gun bill off the Senate floor in order to buy his party more time to gather votes. Gun control groups are now trying to flex their muscles by dumping money into congressional races nationwide. They want to show that they’re a force to be reckoned with just like the National Rifle Association, but Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin says that’s not the case yet.
BEN CARDIN: “The NRA decided to make this a cause. And when they say, look we’re going to threaten to put a primary challenge against you if you support the bill, people pay attention to what they say.”
LASLO: Wyoming’s lawmakers say it's not about the N-R-A. They say the proposals they voted on this week just didn’t make sense. Take the bipartisan amendment to require near universal background checks for gun purchases. Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi says requiring background checks at gun shows can keep law abiding citizens from getting firearms.
MIKE ENZI: “There are difficulties with the gun check. They are not immediate. There’s isn’t a computer that says this person isn’t in there so go ahead and sell the gun. And it can be a five day process, which for a three day gun show can be a problem. Or even a shorter one than that.”
LASLO: And Barrasso has other problems with the proposal.
BARRASSO: “In terms of the way, if a neighbor wanted to lend a hunting rifle to another neighbor the day before hunting season begins, can’t do it, without going to a licensed federal firearm dealer. Just to lend a gun to somebody who you may have known all your life.”
LASLO: Most Democrats disagree. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine was governor when a gunman killed thirty two students and wounded seventeen others at Virginia Tech…the deadliest school shooting in the nation’s history. Kaine ushered through reforms in the state that closed legal loopholes that allowed the shooter to buy hand guns even though he was mentally ill.
TIM KAINE: “The better the background check system, the safer you are. We just learned that. It’s an unequivocal and simple proposition and we have an opportunity to fix the background check system with respect to gun shows and online sales to enforce existing laws, and we should do it.”
LASLO: But Wyoming’s lawmakers say new gun laws aren’t the answer. Here’s a solution Enzi offered on the Senate floor.
ENZI: “One of the things we need are parents – parents to be more careful and more repetitive at telling their kids it’s not right to kill people. It’s not even right to bully them. And it’s definitely not right for them to kill themselves.”
LASLO: And Enzi says loopholes aren’t the problem.
ENZI: “The Senate should focus on making sure current laws are upheld. They’re not.”
LASLO: Enzi didn’t offer any amendment to increase the enforcement of current laws though. Instead he and Barrasso voted to block the Senate from even debating gun control and the Second Amendment.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.