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Elliott Morss | January 18th, 2018

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Democracy Is Broken: The Shameful Gun Vote of the US Senate

Democracy Is Broken: The Shameful Gun Vote of the US Senate
© Elliott R. Morss, Ph.D.


For more than I year, I have been documenting that special interests groups rather than the will of the people determine what Congress legislates and what actions the US takes internationally. It does not matter whether it is health policy, bank reform, educational standards, energy, or where/when the US launches the next war.

Last Wednesday, the 17th, the US Senate documented better than anything to date just how broken the US democracy has become. In a series of votes, interests of the gun producers and their lobbyists prevailed.

The Polls

The polls indicate that most Americans want improved background checks as a pre-condition for buying a gun. A recent Gallup poll found 91% of Americans favoring background checks for all gun sales. A CNN/ORC poll found 86% of Americans favoring increased background checks. These and other polls found strong support for the checks from Democrats, Republicans, and independents. In short, the American people wanted improved background checks.

The Bill

In hopes of getting a bill approved, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania worked out a compromise that was less comprehensive than Obama’s proposal but still had his support. The Manchin-Toomey plan would have expanded background checks to include private sales at gun shows and all Internet sales, while continuing to exempt most sales between family members and friends.

The Vote

A majority of Senators supported the bill (54 to 46) but 60 votes were needed for it to be enacted. The last of Senators who voted against the bill is presented below with the Democratic Senators highlighted. It was reported that Harry Reid voted against it for procedural reasons (so he can bring it back to the floor for a later vote. It is notable that John McCain’s name is not on the list. He is the only Republican in addition to Toomey who voted for the bill.


One final interesting point on the vote: the populations of states where both Senators opposed the bill 78 million; state populations where both senators supported checks – 176 million.

The President and others vow not to give up. Forget it. It is over. The gun producers, represented and funded by the National Rifle Association, control Congress on gun issues.

What Can Be Done?

The gun issue is not unique. Special interest groups get what they want at all levels of government. Consider a state example: I live in Massachusetts and am not allowed to buy wine from out-of-state. In 2009, Federal courts ruled this was in violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. Has Massachusetts passed laws to remedy this? No. Why? Because as I have pointed out, the Massachusetts alcohol distributors like the monopoly position they now have.

So what can be done? Special interest group control of politicians must be dramatically reduced. Politicians should vote in accordance with the wishes of the people that elected them. But politicians forget very quickly about the people they are supposed to represent once they are elected.

Special interest groups control politicians because the politicians see their campaign support as critical to getting re-elected. To eliminate this influence, two things can be done:

  • Term limits can be imposed so that at least in the elected official’s last term, s/he won’t be beholden to these groups;
  • Spending on behalf of candidates by individuals or institutions has to be dramatically reduced.

It can be argued that each of these changes would violate the US Constitution. Well, the US Constitution is not now serving the interests of its people so it should be changed. 

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