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Allan Powell: Historic judgments need repeated

April 26, 2013|By ALLAN POWELL

The sordid results of Senate voting on April 17 reflect clearly the loss of common sense and the courage to stand up to the political clout of the National Rifle Association. When the vote count became public, two thoughts came to mind. First was the word “infamy,” which President Franklin Roosevelt used to describe the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The second word was “shame,” used in 1954 to describe the conduct of Sen. Joseph McCarthy for labeling all political opponents “commies.”

Just as Dec. 7, 1942, was a “day of infamy” so was April 17, 2013. Just as the lawyer asked McCarthy, “Senator, have you no shame?” we must ask that august assembly the same. Judging from the deluge of editorials, columnists and public reaction, infamy and shame are the most used terms to characterize senatorial conduct. “Infamy” means shameful or disgraceful. How else can you properly describe a vote that ended up with no solution to the national problem we have with regard to sorely needed gun regulation?

Immediately after the vote, Gabrielle Giffords, herself a victim of a shooting, wrote for the New York Times, “… these senators decided to do nothing, shame on them.” During the count, two women in the Senate gallery shouted, “Shame on you!” What they lacked in decorum was compensated for by accuracy.

This dear woman (a former member of the House) then made these telling remarks, “Senators say they fear the NRA and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first-graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.” Her passionate appeals have continued to fall on deaf ears.

For those who suppose my perspective is too harsh, a look at the editorial in the Washington Post (April 18) might be useful. In bold print, it reads: “The Senate Misfires.” Following, in smaller print, it reads: “Cowardice trumps common sense, and the will of the country, in the gun bill.” The Post is properly harsh toward several Democratic members who “… couldn’t locate enough backbone even to vote for the bare minimum.” The Post is pessimistic when it suggests that, with such a defeat, the Senate lost any will (or moral strength) to deal with the gun issue again. If the murder of 20 children and six adults lacks the force to bring sanity to rational gun regulation, it is unlikely they can be moved by anything.

As could be expected, other angry writers took note of the absence of moral spine on the part of many senators. An exception was Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who, while ignored, read this quote from President Andrew Jackson to challenge his colleagues to support the proposed gun regulations: “The brave man inattentive to his duty is worth little more to his country than the coward who deserts in the hour of danger.” This plea was taken seriously by Sen. Lautenberg of New Jersey, critically ill with cancer, who wheeled onto the Senate floor to cast his vote for the bill.

Columnist Dan Balz took note of the many obstacles in the way of getting approval. The power of the NRA in earlier elections to literally buy votes and the need to get 60 votes (instead of the usual simple majority) were of major importance. The combined obstacles made the opponents of gun regulation confident enough to ignore the influence of the president, who was acidic in his condemnation of the stubborn senators.

While the State of Maryland passed a model gun regulation law, our delegation outperformed the Senate — they were unanimous in their negative vote. One delegate went so far as to say, “We have been pushed far to the left by Gov. O’Malley …” Rational gun regulation is not a left-right issue, it is a right-wrong issue governed by common sense and concern for public safety. He is also off the mark by asserting that those who support gun regulations are making an “attack” on the Second Amendment. We can only hope that the “better angels of our nature” eventually prevail on the gun-regulation debate.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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