The political trigonometry of allowing (or not allowing) a gun vote

Stop NRA by Edward Kimmel, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Stop NRA by Edward Kimmel, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As of the writing of this essay, Democrats led by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis have been holding a House of Representatives version of a filibuster by organizing a sit-in in the well of the House. They have sworn to continue the sit-in until a vote is held on several gun control bills in the wake of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

House Speaker Paul Ryan responded by killing the cameras in the chamber; the Democrats responded by broadcasting their protest on Twitter app Periscope; the feeds were picked up by C-SPAN and other networks.

Mr. Ryan is sure in a pickle. 

Let's be frank. No gun control bill will pass this House as currently constituted. Politically, Mr. Ryan holds all the cards. He could easily, magnanimously give the Democrats what they're calling for, an up-or-down vote, and protect his supporters on the executive committee of the NRA.

However, in politics nothing is simple.

It's sad to say that the slaughter of innocent children in Newtown didn't move hard-hearted Republicans to soften in their opposition to gun control measures. It's been a political truism that if dead children didn't move the political maths, nothing would

But Orlando seems to have broken the dam. It was the single greatest mass shooting in US history. It involved the politically influential LGBTQ community. It involved a largely immigrant population. And it had the angle of possible Islamic terrorism. It was the perfect confluence exploding in one awful night.

Personally, I think that the scale of the massacre finally broke the conscience of this country. Forty nine people were gunned down by military grade weaponry, by a man who wasn't allowed to fly due to being on the terrorist watch list but could buy an AR-15 with no background check with the ease of buying a Pez dispenser due to Congress' inaction on barring people on the watch list from buying guns. The country seems to have finally seen the insanity of the GOP/NRA position in the person of Omar Mateen.

But, the maths remain. Sen. Chris Murphy held a filibuster in the Senate, got his votes, and all bills were defeated. Mr. Ryan has the same cards to play.

However, the game has changed. The outrage has grown since the Senate votes. Ninety percent of the electorate supports the very modest reforms proposed by Democrats. And the GOP-controlled Congress stymies all efforts at any bill to reduce the epidemic of gun violence wracking this country.

Paul Ryan can hold a vote, being certain in any bill losing on the floor of the House... and still lose. Lose quite bigly, as the presumptive GOP candidate for President would say.

His members would be on record as wanting to maintain the ease for criminals to acquire guns legally. In an already-explosive electoral season, with a candidate on the top of the ticket who is less popular than the clap, this may just upend the mighty efforts of gerrymandering and deliver the House to Democrats. 

However, if he doesn't allow a vote, the results are the same. Inaction is the same as action, as it has the same results: preventing any move towards a solution to our gun epidemic. And the political atmosphere is such that hiding behind a non-vote is no longer tenable.

I have no real sympathy for Mr. Ryan. He's a supposedly faithful Catholic whose political guru is Ayn Rand, an atheist who in her writing scoffed at the ideas behind Catholic social teaching. He is the most vapid of GOP intellectuals, dressing up greed and lack of empathy in philosophical bromides. The hurricane buffeting him is the least he deserves.

My sympathy is for the 30,000 people killed in one year by guns. And for their families. And for the fact that they have no one in Congress who hears their cry, and can effect change. 

The only solution to this is to vote. Vote out every NRA-backed representative and senator. Vote them out and replace them with politicians who hear the voices of the voiceless. Anything less is to continue to accede to evil.



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