Last weekend, a deranged gunman named Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 more, some gravely, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando before being cut down himself by the police. His motives are still cloudy and investigators are still piecing together the details of the events leading up to this atrocity, but it appears it may have been both a “lone wolf” terrorist attack and a hate crime.
In response to this horrific event, Congressional Democrats sought to introduce bills which would expand background checks for firearms purchases and ban individuals on the terrorist watch list -- commonly known as the “no-fly” list -- from buying guns. Congressional Republicans at first refused to schedule votes on the bills, and only relented after a 15-hour filibuster by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has been a forceful advocate for stronger gun control measures since Adam Lanza murdered 26 people, including 20 school children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home state of Connecticut in December 2012.
We understand there are important debates to be had about gun control policy in our country, and advocates on both sides of the issue are passionately committed to their positions. And we realize with each shocking incident, each unthinkable massacre, the attitudes of many on either side of the debate seem to only harden. It’s one of the deeper and more intractable disputes in our political discourse, and one which legislators, perhaps understandably, fear to grapple with.
But to us, that’s no excuse for the initial failure of Congress to at least attempt to come to terms with the issue. While we all know legislatures can act rashly in the heat of the moment, especially when public passions are inflamed, they still have the responsibility to address the most pressing concerns of their constituents, and of the nation as a whole.
And while we also know bills are often proposed less for the results they would produce than the political advantage they would confer -- especially in a presidential election year -- legislators still should not shirk from the responsibility of at least putting them to a vote and going on the record with their positions. In fact, the contours of courage dictate those we elect to represent us should be willing to place themselves front and center at precisely the time when they have the most to lose, either individually or as a party, and show us what they truly believe through their debate and their votes.
In this case, after yet another massacre, we believe it should not have taken a filibuster to get Congress to act.
There has always been, and will always be, tension between serving personal political interests and the interests of The People. Often there are hard choices to be made and hard votes to take, and often those choices and votes mean the risk, or even the likelihood, a given legislator will lose their seat in their next election.
We as Whigs believe such circumstances are simply part of what it means to be an elected public servant. We live in a republic, where citizens elect their fellow citizens to make decisions on their behalf. To shirk those decisions and seek to avoid responsibility is, we believe, a failure to live up to the expectations we rightly have of our Congress, and indeed of all who serve us in our government at every level.
As of this writing it appears Congress will likely be scheduling votes on a number of gun control proposals soon. There will no doubt be a heated debate over them, both on Capitol Hill and in the public conversation, as one would expect with such a divisive issue. And there will no doubt be future filibusters and parliamentary maneuvers as one party or another attempts to duck the most politically dangerous issues or gain an electoral advantage.
But we don’t have to like it.
Larry Stanley is the national vice-chair of The Modern Whig Party of America.