Senate Fails Americans: Are We Safe?

Michael Gross

In this post 9/11 era of hyper vigilance, a background check is required before you do almost anything: apply for a job, rent an apartment, drive a car or obtain a passport. Surprisingly, there is no background check required when you purchase a gun at a gun show, online, or at any other non-dealer venue.

Two weeks ago, the Senate failed to achieve the 60 Senate votes necessary in order to commence the debate over the proposed bill expanding background checks. Forty-six senators – 41 Republicans and five Democrats – voted against the bill intended to require universal background checks on all gun purchasers. Although federal law prohibits selling guns to criminals or the mentally impaired, there is currently no mechanism for fully enforcing this law since background checks are only required if guns are purchased directly from dealers. How could it be that this seemingly innocuous proposal was not even worthy of a discussion? Why are these senators so vehemently opposed to it?

Apparently, those senators had forgotten what happened just 18 weeks ago in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School were murdered. For some incomprehensible reason, they seem to think that the 270 murders every day in America are not a problem worth addressing. As of right now, anyone in America can go online and purchase a gun, regardless of whether or not they are a criminal with a history of murder or a law-abiding citizen who merely wants to use it for protection or recreational purposes.

There are many who believe that this is yet another situation where the politicians are being controlled by the lobbyists, in this case the National Rifle Association (NRA), due to their financial influence in the reelection process.  With the NRA’s dominance in the political sphere, the voices of the American citizens are going unheard. 90% – 9 out of every 10 Americans – were in favor of passing this bill. However, in our democratic state, their opinions went unnoticed. With these frustrated American citizens, the senators who voted against the bill might not get reelected – regardless of how much funding the NRA puts into their campaign. If these politicians are not morally sound enough to act on and do what is fundamentally right, at the very least they should want to please their constituents in order to get reelected.

The NRA did not support this bill because they believe that the expansion of background checks will “not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep your kids safe in school,” and that “no background check would have prevented the tragedy in Newton, Aurora, or Tucson.” However, while it is certainly not a guarantee that the background checks will help, there is no harm in broadening the background check requirements. The NRA is concerned that another restriction on guns would impair the profits of gun manufacturers who support them. Some believe that as long as the NRA is funding these politicians’ campaigns, a bill placing any sort of restrictions on guns seems unlikely to pass.

Does the failure of this bill  to pass send the message that everyone needs a gun to defend themselves? Is this what our country has come to? With this recent disappointment, American people are again questioning their own safety.

The tragedy at Sandy Hook left people all over the country wondering if they were safe at their own school. Latin took action right away with reformed lockdown drills and security in entering and exiting the building. Earlier this week, I had a chance to meet with the heads of Latin’s security department – Mr. Brown and Mr. Guzman – to discuss the changes made after the incident at Sandy Hook and how they plan to keep the school as safe as possible. The security department has recently installed new shatter-proof films in the windows, in order to make it slower and harder for an intruder, and also have improved the PA system so they can now communicate to the entire community with a phone. While talking about their plans for the future, Mr. Guzman said, “There is no way to completely ensure that something like this will never happen, or that an intruder can never get in the building. Our main priority is to slow them down and give the community enough time to react and prepare.”

This week has been yet another bitter reminder of the exposure to violence that we face every day as well as the shortcomings of our political system to address pertinent issues. Although there are two sides to every story, it is truly difficult to find the downside in the passage of this bill. We all know that legislation alone would not eliminate the risk of violent crime, but it would be one more safeguard. If the passage of the bill prevented even one violent shooting, it would be worth the while.