WEST PALM BEACH, Fl, April 19, 2013 - President Obama today started the process of expanding background checks for perspective gun owners despite a defeat of a background check measure in the Senate this week.
Obama initiated a process to remove provisions of health privacy laws that prevent some states from reporting information to the federal background check system.
Under federal law, certain mentally ill people are prohibited from purchasing firearms, but not all states provide data to the background check system monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Some states use the Health Information Portability Privacy Act (HIPPA).
The current measure Obama is pursuing involves a change in privacy laws that allows states to disclose mental health information to the FBI. Obama also says he will increase financial incentives for states to contribute the information.
The background check system tells sellers whether a buyer is approved, denied, or requires additional investigation to purchase a weapon. It does not reveal any details or give sellers access to mental health records.
The move comes two days after 45 Senators blocked a measure to require those buying guns online and at gun shows to pass a background check. While 54 Senators approved the measure, the minority cabal quashed the discussion.
Both “by the people and for the people” and “majority rule with minority rights” seem absent from the Senate vote.
According to a CNN poll in April 2013, a Quinnipiac University poll in March and April 2013 and a CBS News poll in March 2013, 90 percent of Americans support background investigations for gun buyers.
Yet despite that overwhelming public support, 45 elected Senators vetoed the measure. In the Senate, a majority can support a measure, and it will still lose. Senate procedure requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, so anything with less than 60 votes effectively fails.
Senate composition also gives states with small populations the same number of senators, and the same number of votes in the Senate, as those with large populations. In the gun background check vote, both Wyoming senators opposed the measure. Combined, these senators represent just over 500,000 Americans. Compare that to the California Senators, both of whom voted in favor of the background checks, who represent 38 million Americans. But votes for Wyoming and California carry the same weight in the US Senate, diluting the power of voters in California and giving each Wyoming voter 66 times the power in the Senate that each California voter carries.
Not only is Wyoming much smaller in population than California, but even combined, the population of 26 of the senators who voted against background checks equals less than the population of California.
In other words, a majority of the members of the Senate backed the measure. A majority of the people in the United States backed the measure. But the requirement for expanded background checks still failed.
The Senate vote also again raises the never-ending question of the role of lobbyists in politics. According to an analysis by the UK’s Guardian newspaper and the Sunlight Foundation, 42 of the 45 senators have received money from gun lobbyists.
It seems that procedural issues, disproportional representation and special interests trumped the will of the people.
Now President Obama is threatening to fall back on another quirk in our government system that involves individual power, executive privilege, to push the measure forward.
After the Senate vote, Obama said, “Even without Congress, my administration will keep doing everything it can to protect more of our communities.”
Vice President Joe Biden said, “… the president is already lining up some additional executive actions he’s going to be taking later this week.”
If legislators cannot come together and agree to some sort of background check for perspective gun buyers, whether they purchase from a gun show, online or from a regular firearms dealer, despite overwhelming public support, it is hard to imagine a consensus on more divisive issues.
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