In the past, the National Rifle Association endorsed criminal background checks for gun buyers: This stance seemed to reinforce the old NRA mantra that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Further, background checks are consistent with government police powers, and don’t trample on Second Amendment rights. After the 1999 Columbine massacre, the NRA supported extending background checks to gun-show purchases, in lieu of tougher restrictions such as an assault-weapons ban or limit on magazine capacity.
But that, apparently, was a different political moment. Confident of its ability to control senators who feared offending its rural constituency, or perhaps just beholden to its financial supporters in the gun industry, the NRA changed course. On Wednesday, a cowardly minority of senators blocked expanded background checks for gun purchases, ignoring the desires of the American people. It was, as President Obama said, “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”