Back in 2005, Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, otherwise known as the Bankruptcy Bill. The "consumer protection" part of the title was indicative of the Orwellian naming trend of the Bush era because, predictably, it was a hugely profitable love letter to big banks and lenders at the expense of the American people just a few years prior to the most epic financial collapse since the Great Depression.
In addition to being almost entirely unnecessary, the bill forced anyone filing for Chapter 7, which forgives all debts, to undergo a means test. Following the passage of the bill, if an individual or a couple earns more than the median income of their state, they're considered "abusive" borrowers and must, instead, file Chapter 13 which involves entering into a deal with creditors to repay the debt. For many Americans -- no more clean-slate bankruptcies. So not only did big lenders and Wall Street screw millions of us in the Great Recession, but Congress, the Bush White House, our current vice president (Biden voted for it because, well, Delaware) and the financial sector guaranteed we'd have a more arduous path out of the hole -- screwed on both ends, while the banks and lenders were all summarily bailed out without been forced to prove whether they themselves were "abusive."
Yet that mutually satisfactory handjob between Congress and special interests at the expense of the people barely registers on the outrage meter compared with the failure of the background checks amendment in the Senate on Wednesday. At no other time in recent memory was there a more obvious example of the will of the people being ignored by cowardly lawmakers in lieu of a special interest group.
If we were unsure about this before, it ought to be abundantly clear today that the propagandists at the National Rifle Association wield staggering levels of power over the most exclusive lawmaking body in the world. The NRA owns the Senate. Sure, only 46 senators ultimately voted against extending background checks, but the fact that this relatively innocuous measure was the only gun control amendment that had a chance of passing indicates a broader degree of subservience to the gun lobby.
The Toomey/Manchin amendment would've merely expanded the background check system that's already in place to include gun shows and internet sales -- two major loopholes that allow potential criminals and extremist groups to attain assault rifles and other firearms completely under the radar. Closing these loopholes should've been a no-brainer and approved by an overwhelming majority of the Senate -- not haggled, belabored and filibustered as if it was a new and unusual trespass against liberty and American values. Nearly everyone wanted this legislation to pass:
• Washington Post-ABC News poll, April 11-14, 2013: "Would you support or oppose a law requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows or online?" Support: 86 percent. Oppose: 13 percent.
• CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, April 5-7, 2013: "Some proposals would require a background check on anyone attempting to purchase a gun in order to determine whether the prospective buyer has been convicted of a felony or has a mental health problem. Please tell me whether you would favor or oppose a background check for a prospective gun buyer under each of the following circumstances. ... If the buyer is trying to purchase a gun at a gun show." Favor: 83 percent. Oppose: 17 percent.
• Quinnipiac University poll, March 26-April 1, 2013. "Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?" Support: 91 percent. Oppose: 8 percent.
• CBS News poll, March 20-24, 2013. "Would you favor or oppose background checks on all potential gun buyers?" Favor: 90 percent. Oppose: 8 percent.
Clearly 90 percent popular support only attracts the attention of 54 percent of the Senate when it's being puppeteered by a major wing of the Death-For-Profit Club.
Yet even Democrats like Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) voted against the amendment, in spite of the fact that it was supported by 94 percent of her home state, contrary to the red state stereotype. Even Harry Reid voted against the amendment. Toss in nearly the entire Republican caucus and the demands of one lobbying group took significant precedent over what you supported. More damning than that, 74 percent of NRA members supported the expansion of background checks, along with 87 percent of gun owners, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz. That's not an insignificant observation: who exactly does the NRA represent? Its card-carrying members who were mostly in favor of expanding background checks or the gun manufacturers who thrive on being able to easily sell their machines of death? And therefore is the NRA really about protecting the constitutional rights of its members, or protecting the corporate profitability of the gun industry? I think we know the answer.
The NRA's radical, corporatist agenda was even too much for one of its most prominent members. Adolphus Busch IV, heir to the Busch beer fortune, resigned from his lifetime membership in the organization due to the NRA's position on background checks.
In his resignation letter, Busch wrote, "One only has to look at the makeup of the 75-member board of directors, dominated by manufacturing interests, to confirm my point. The NRA appears to have evolved into the lobby for gun and ammunition manufacturers rather than gun owners."
What's become abundantly clear this week is that in order to pass real gun legislation, gun control activists have to completely overwhelm the NRA and its apparatchiks with a powerful, fearless message, extraordinary spending and constant, hyper-tenacious pressure. Without it, the gun control effort at the federal level will continue to be an exercise in humiliation and futility, failing to pass even the most innocuous and reasonable gun laws. If a serious effort isn't possible, or if enough of the people who support new gun laws don't participate in the process, the NRA will expand into the void -- gaining enough strength to crush even some of the promising state-level legislation in the works, while further expanding its dangerous brand of bumper-sticker extremism.
Patricia Maisch, one of the heroes of Tucson who helped to disarm Jared Loughner, was kicked out the Senate chambers after the NRA's puppets successfully filibustered the background checks amendment. She was kicked out because she shouted "shame on you" at the senators who filibustered the will of the people. And she was right. I can't think of a more shame-worthy moment in recent Senate history.