Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., regularly carps that Washington is so broken that it can’t things done. Yet he is intent on making sure that Washington stays broken.
Sen. Rubio is part of a group that vowed to keep the Senate from debating and voting on legislation to reduce gun violence. Families of children and teachers massacred in Newtown, Conn., want the Senate to vote. Fortunately, there is hope that a supermajority of senators disagree with Sen. Rubio. On Wednesday, it appeared that there were at least 60 votes to break the filibuster that Sen. Rubio and others intended to mount.
Sen. Rubio portrays his obstructionism as a valiant defense of the Second Amendment. In fact, he is defending a position that could play well in the 2016 Republican primary but is recklessly extreme. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 and 2010 that the Second Amendment grants individuals the right to keep and bear arms, justices indicated that reasonable restrictions on gun ownership are constitutional. One of those reasonable restrictions is the expanded, improved system of background checks at the center of the bipartisan compromise the Senate should clear for debate today.
Now, background checks are mandatory only for sales by licensed firearms dealers. Online sales, sales by individuals and many sales at gun shows do not require background checks. Some Florida counties, including Palm Beach, technically require background checks for nearly all sales, but local ordinances are poorly enforced.
The deal announced Wednesday would require background checks for most firearms sales, but would exclude those among family members. The compromise, worked out by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., sets up a system in which federally licensed firearms dealers would conduct the background checks for sales at gun shows and over the Internet, and for any sale involving advertising. Exchanges among family members still would be excluded. Gun dealers also would maintain the records.
A national registry of gun sales would be more effective. But conspiracy theorists, abetted by the National Rifle Association, howl that a national registry would lead to government confiscation. The NRA likely can block other reasonable restrictions, such as a ban on assault weapons and a limit on the number of bullets a magazine can hold.
Sen. Rubio has said a background check would not have prevented the Newtown massacre, in which the gunman used his mother’s firearms. But only willful ignorance could prevent Sen. Rubio and others from acknowledging that better background checks could prevent convicted criminals and mentally ill people from having easy access to weapons.
Congress will not do all it can to prevent gun violence. The NRA still is too powerful, and politicians are still too cowardly. If Washington worked, a successful vote to break the filibuster would not be considered a major breakthrough. But in today’s Washington, it would be. It also would be a rebuke to Sen. Rubio’s faction and an overdue beginning.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board