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Gun vote revives memories of Civil Rights Movement

Lee A. Daniels | 4/29/2013, 9:36 a.m. | Updated on 4/29/2013, 6:41 p.m.
At first I wondered why I felt so powerful a sense of déjà vu last week when the Senate blocked ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

(NNPA) - At first I wondered why I felt so powerful a sense of déjà vu last week when the Senate blocked gun control legislation drafted by a bipartisan group of Senators and supported by President Obama’s administration.

That sensation even overwhelmed my fury at the craven surrender of the “anti-” senators to the National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful of the right-wing extremist groups that wag the Republican Party. But then, as I watched Obama’s April 17 news conference and looked at the faces of those behind him – some whose features were etched with anger, others with a sense of betrayal – I realized my mind was flashing back to the early 1960s. I was thinking of the innumerable news conferences Civil Rights leaders held in dozens of Southern cities and towns after White mobs had attacked peaceful demonstrators or segregationist officials had stood in another schoolhouse or polling-place door. They, too, most often seemed to have set their facial features in that same stressed emotional range.

It was then I grasped the connection between my memories of those long-ago incidents and the conservatives’ success last week in the Senate. Both harshly illuminated their respective era’s defining characteristic: the bare-knuckle confrontation between those Americans who want to expand democracy and those who want to limit it in order to preserve their own power.

In the early 1960s, that confrontation was almost exclusively centered on the Civil Rights Movement’s efforts to destroy the racism that for nearly a century had marooned Black Americans in a small corner of American life. Today, conservatives have arrayed their resistance to expanding democracy across a broader front of issues and against groups of Americans who are staking their claim to first-class citizenship.

This is what last week’s Senate vote underscored. Recent polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans favor the universal background checks on gun purchases the Senate legislation proposed. That overwhelming majority included 80-plus percent of Republicans and of those who live in homes where one or more people own guns. Yet, a minority of senators – four Democrats and 41 Republicans – ignored that extraordinary breadth of popular agreement and instead combined to prevent the legislation from getting the 60 votes that would enable it to withstand a certain Republican Party filibuster on the way to passage.

Referring to the “enormous resistance in Congress to passing” strong gun control measures, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne asked in an essay pointedly titled, “The end of majority rule?” He asked, “What does ‘rule of the people’ mean if a 9-to-1 issue is having so much trouble gaining traction?” Answering his own question later in the piece, he wrote that “a deep structural tilt in our politics to the right … explains why election outcomes and the public’s preferences have so little impact on what is happening in Washington. At the moment, our democracy is not very democratic.”

As a visibly angered Obama, pledging to continue his campaign for substantive gun-control measures by executive order if necessary, said the “antis” opposition to the measured bipartisan gun-control proposals was replete with distortions of fact and outright lies. Perhaps the most shameful was the assertion by several conservative politicians, pundits and talk-show jockeys that the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook School massacre, who actively supported the legislation, were dupes and “props” of the president.