A popular topic of political conversation for years has been: What can we do to get past the partisanship? How can we fix the dysfunction in Washington?
The only answer that I can come up with is: nothing… until Mitch McConnell is gone from the Senate.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell didn’t kill 50-plus people this week at a Las Vegas concert, but he is to blame. And if we have any chance to avoid our next mass shooting, McConnell has to go.
For over three decades, McConnell has abdicated his opportunity as a U.S. senator to produce meaningful legislation, on any issue. Instead, he has spent his entire career focused exclusively on accumulating financial and political power across government spectrum.
No other senator operates like McConnell does. They may be more ideologically pure, or care about a particular issue. Other senators might have dreams of higher office. Some may be positioning to run for president, picked as a running mate or nominated to a cabinet post.
With power as his only priority, he is more dangerous than any of the 99 other senators. Free of any emotive constraints — such as guilt and shame — he knows how to use the process and dysfunction of government equally to achieve victory and absorb power. In this way, McConnell is uniquely responsible for the public health crisis that is gun violence in America, now the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
McConnell has sold his soul to uncounted special interests — but possibly none more so than to the NRA. With McConnell as their inside guy, the NRA has guaranteed that America’s gun laws will only move in their direction.
This influence has even reached the U.S. Supreme Court, as the Senate majority leader issued a new threshold to justice nominees: They must be NRA-approved. He said, “I can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm … a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association … ”
After the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, in which 26 people were shot to death, America expected and wanted Congress to do something. President Obama launched a blue-ribbon panel on gun violence, which ultimately led to a series of specific gun regulation proposals in the Senate, including: expanded background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines.
A Washington Post poll in the weeks after the shooting showed that 88 percent of Americans supported background checks at gun shows and 76 percent for anyone buying ammunition. Sixty five percent supported banning high-capacity magazines. Fifty eight percent supported banning assault weapons.
Despite public opinion, McConnell persisted, and blocked any of the proposals from the 60-vote procedural hurdle.
McConnell even used the tragedy for his campaign. Just weeks after expressing sympathies to the victims’ families, he sent a campaign robocall to hundreds of thousands of gun owners in Kentucky. His message: “President Obama and his team are doing everything in their power to restrict your Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Their efforts to restrict your rights, invading your personal privacy and overstepping their bounds with executive orders, is just plain wrong.”
Exploiting this tragedy is just plain wrong… but McConnell isn’t restrained by wrong. To use a timely metaphor, wrong is just another weapon in his political arsenal.
Now, less than five years later, an even bigger mass shooting than in Sandy Hook. More than twice the number victims killed, and hundreds more injured in the chaos. This time, one gunman used what was described as a “cache” of weapons — 19 rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammo. One weapon reportedly was an AR-15 assault rifle, the type used routinely in mass shooting events.
McConnell knows this. So does the NRA. They don’t care.
To concede that the AR-15, or any other assault rifle should be banned would be to concede power, influence and money.
Not just money for the NRA or McConnell, but for his colleagues. In McConnell’s mind, that is the beginning of the end of his stranglehold on the Senate.
No, the AR-15 is here to stay. All the guns are… as long as McConnell is in the Senate.