Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How should Congress react to the Orlando shooting?

(Response to a question posted on the Quora website)

In a better world, Congress should react to the Orlando shooting by doing something close to the wishes of the majority American public and in their best interest in terms of their public safety and security. Unfortunately, the Congressional action we have seen in reaction to Orlando, Sandy Hook and countless others, is the most appalling example of gridlock and a broken government – Congress did nothing; again, and again, and again.

  • 55% favor stricter gun control laws
  • 54% favor an outright ban on “assault-type guns
  • 54% favor a ban on high-capacity or extended ammunition clips
  • 92% favor expanded background checks
  • 87 % favor preventing certain people, such as convicted felons or people with mental health problems, from owning guns
  • 85% favor preventing people who are on the U.S. government's Terrorist Watchlist or no-fly list from owning guns

So, the American public clearly wants expanded controls and regulations of guns and people who buy them; however, the same poll also shows us that 90% of the public opposes preventing all Americans from owning guns. So, the public does not want the government to “take our guns away”, and based on public opinion, it seems to be only a fantasy conspiracy theory that such an action would ever be undertaken.

Despite the overwhelming public will; despite an old fashion standing Senate filibuster; despite an unprecedented 26-hour sit-in by House Democrats – Congress refused to do anything with respect to the Orlando shooting. If Congress didn’t act following the slaughter of twenty, 6 and 7 year olds at Sandy Hook; should we be surprised that they didn’t react to a massacre of 49 innocent souls in an Orlando nightclub?

While it may be easy to blame the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their money and lobbyists, we need to look deeper at what allows Congress to blatantly disregard public opinion and give so much power to a minority interest. It’s not just the NRA and it’s not just the gun issue. It’s about a host of issues and the inability of Congress to address difficult issues and take action.

It’s the result of a complex labyrinth of House and Senate rules (formal and informal) and procedures that are designed to frustrate the Founding Father’s cornerstone of democracy – “majority rule.” Thomas Jefferson, a staunch advocate of majority rule said: "Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends, the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take them." --Thomas Jefferson to Annapolis Citizens, 1809. ME 16:337

A scary thought for sure; and when it’s boiled down, the lack of majority rule is the underlying reason for most of the public unrest that is characterized as broken, dysfunctional government and gridlock. When you prevent majority rule you allow a minority to control decisions, as Alexander Hamilton pointed out, “To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision). . .” Federalist Paper #22.

Yes, we have a very divided electorate which seems to have grown more divided in recent years. But, the move to prevent majority rule has also made it more difficult to craft bipartisan solutions.

In the House of Representatives a measure cannot even be brought to the Floor unless a majority of the majority party (Republicans) agrees – the so-called “Hastart Rule”. Thus, based on the current numbers of Republican and Democrats in the House, all major issues are controlled by 29% of the members.

In the Senate, the old, standing filibuster has evolved into the new “silent” filibuster, where a Member simply says he will filibuster and action which then automatically requires a supermajority of 60 to bring an action to a vote. And, if that’s not enough, there is now an overused procedure called a “Senatorial hold” which allows any individual Senator to bring any action to a halt by placing a “hold” on it until certain demands are met.

These are just some of the procedural “tricks” that are used to prevent majority rule and they are used by both Democrats and Republicans. The sad part is that all Senators and Representatives know these procedures are resulting in the political gridlock that the public resents, but they refuse to eliminate them. Both parties use them to prevent majority rule, avoid responsibility, and create the gridlock which they can use as an excuse for their inaction.

The media, responsible government reform organizations, and the few ethical Members of the House and Senate (we used to call them “statesmen”) need to focus more attention on these, modern-day “demons of democracy” and the ease by which they could be eliminated if the right public pressure were applied.

Reasonable gun control regulations could have been implemented years ago, and many other important issues could have been addressed if these destructive mechanisms were scrubbed or seriously revised. And, who knows how many lives might have been saved.