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Gun advocates learn it goes both ways

Published July 27. 2014 4:00AM

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have helped kill a bill that would have expanded hunting, target shooting and fishing on federal lands but also helped some of their Democratic Senate colleagues this election year.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act had strong bipartisan support and passed an earlier test vote by 82-12. It was very popular in the pro-gun states of vulnerable Democrats like Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. So Republicans couldn't resist their frequent practice of offering what are known as "poison pill" amendments designed to kill bills or embarrass Democrats who have to vote on them.

On this bill, Republicans were hoping to force the red state Democrats to deal with controversial votes on gun issues. For example, Republican Rand Paul offered an amendment loosening gun restrictions in the District of Columbia.

But this time, Democrats played the game too. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois filed an amendment to toughen penalties for convicted gun traffickers and straw purchasers of guns for those barred from buying firearms.

Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy offered a sensible amendment that would bar people under temporary restraining orders for domestic violence from having guns. These and other amendments from both sides managed to kill the bill and the red state senators lost a good campaign issue.

"We may not be the most popular senators among our colleagues today but we took a stand to make sure that there would be no expansion - none - of firearms on federal property without changes in federal law to better protect people from the ongoing scourge of gun violence in this country," said Sen. Blumenthal.

"This is not the first time a fairly innocuous bill or maybe even a good bill has failed because of an inability to compromise on the amendment process," added Sen. Murphy. "We truly objected to the process in this case. Our objection was that the Senate was going to spend a week debating a bill that increased gun rights rather than spending a week on a bill that addressed gun violence."

There's a bit of poetic justice in the senators' actions as well. On April 16, 2013, "a pretty shameful day for Washington," in President Obama's words, a months' long effort to pass modest gun control legislation in the wake of the Newtown killings ended in failure.

"In rapid succession," The New York Times reported, "a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity weapons, all failed to get 60 votes." The negative votes meant "a wrenching search for solutions to the violence that left 20 children dead in Newtown, Conn. all but ended."

Among the no votes cast that day, according to the Times account, were those of Sens. Begich and Pryor.

Neither Connecticut senator said he was responding to those past votes, but we congratulate them for taking the principled stand that debates on stemming gun violence should come before any expansion of gun rights.

In doing so, they also sent a strong message to their congressional colleagues. Obstruction in the form of procedural tricks like poison pill amendments and an unwillingness to compromise, can go both ways.

And since Republicans could control both Houses of Congress next year, they might want to start now in modifying their methods - before it's too late and they find the precedents they are setting come back to haunt them.

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