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Rubio, others Undermine Majority on Gun Sales | Martin Dyckman

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Rubio, others Undermine Majority on Gun Sales | Martin Dyckman

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Rubio, others Undermine Majority on Gun Sales
Tuesday, April 23, 2013 — Martin Dyckman

"In God we trust" may be the planet's most familiar national motto, appearing on trillions of U.S. coins and treasury bills circulating everywhere. But perhaps the time has come for a new one, more reflective of how the rest of the world sees us:

"In guns we trust."

If the NRA continues to have its way, it will be the gun, not the bald eagle, that symbolizes America.

A more appropriate icon, however, would be a human silhouette, hands raised in surrender, to represent the cowardice -- the gut-clenching, sweat-pouring, sallow-faced, knee-trembling, odor-spewing cowardice -- that explains why the Congress of the greatest nation on earth can't enact something as simple and sensible as universal background checks.

So here's a challenge for Marco Rubio, the Florida flash whose presidency would confirm the Peter principle; for Richard Burr, the senior senator from my state, who praised the courage of the Newtown parents when they lobbied Congress but couldn't muster enough within himself; for Jeff Flake of Arizona, who couldn't look Gabby Giffords in the eye when she stammered out her plea for his support, and for all the other 42 senators who wouldn't even allow the issue to come to a vote.

If they sincerely believe the NRA propaganda they were parroting to the public -- that expanded background checks wouldn't prevent criminals from getting guns -- then
they must also believe that the existing law, applying only to licensed dealers, doesn't work either, that the million denials since 1998 haven't saved lives.

In that case, they should demonstrate political integrity and intellectual consistency by sponsoring legislation to repeal all the gun laws now on the books.

For that matter, let them repeal all laws -- why have any since laws aren't foolproof? -- and let society sink into total anarchy. One bright side to that would be putting Wayne LaPierre out of work. Even better: There would be no need for professional pols like Rubio, Burr, and Flake.

What's the point of having a Congress when it can be paralyzed so easily by a small but vociferous and deep-pocketed lobby?

The debacle in the Senate brings to mind a book entitled The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy, written in 1996 by one Daniel Lazare, a freelancer who postulated that equal state representation in the Senate should be scrapped, and the Constitution with it.

He made a fair case about the composition of the Senate, but none at all about how that might actually be changed. He proposed simply that the House should overthrow the Senate and call for a plebescite to ratify the deed. That was, needless to say, long before there was a Tea Party to take over the House.

Small-state control of the Senate is surely the most unfortunate of the surviving compromises from the constitutional convention of 1787. It's the only one that is expressly excluded, in Article Five, from the amendment process.

A Washington Monthly blogger, Ed Kilgore, calculated that the senators from the 25 largest states gave 33 yes votes to the Manchin-Toomey compromise, against only 17 no votes, which was better than the three-fifths margin necessary to break a filibuster. But the senators from the 25 smallest states voted 29 to 21 against.

What is not written in the Constitution -- or even implied by its text -- is the power of a minority to forever frustrate debate on any issue it chooses. In 1787, the framers specified only five instances requiring supermajority votes: for the Senate to ratify a treaty or convict an impeached officer, for either house to expel a member, to override a veto, and to propose constitutional amendments.

Consider what they did not think needed more than a majority vote: levying taxes, laws to deprive citizens of life, liberty, or property; even declarations of war.

The Senate's tradition of unlimited debate, embodied in the filibuster, derives from the power of each house to make its own rules. Even that can be changed at the opening of each new Congress -- and should be.

But even the filibuster, as originally contrived, was ostensibly to prolong debate rather than to prevent it.  The policy of requiring a three-fifths vote even to begin debate is a travesty of democracy. It is faithless to the Constitution and to the people. It begs to be scrapped, along with the careers of hacks like Rubio, Burr, and Flake.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

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