This week, the Senate may debate and pass new legislation mandating background checks for all gun purchasers and adding other provisions to existing gun control laws. If the Senate is successful in crafting a bill, then the House may adopt that legislation, or reconcile its own version with the Senate language.
It seems to me that this is a moment when the nation could come together — liberals and conservatives alike — and embrace a constructive change to gun laws that would satisfy the interests of all sides, add effective provisions to improve (not guarantee) our general safety, and, not least, demonstrate our ability as fellow Americans to be something bigger than a mere collection of autonomous individuals.
That last item is more important today than it has been for some time. At the congressional level, we have been so relatively paralyzed for the past four years that many ordinary citizens — both Republicans and Democrats — are feeling degrees of despair, alienation and cynicism about the capability of the federal government to address and solve problems effectively and with proper regard for the interests and welfare of the largest possible chunk of the population.
Ominously, it is democracy itself — as currently configured in the United States — that too often has seemed hijacked or sabotaged by narrow interests or lobbyists or the unwillingness of people and politicians to compromise.
The outcome of the gun-laws debate, then, will either pull us together or increase the distaste for congressional unresponsiveness and cravenness that is already so prevalent among citizens.
I say this because, since the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, an extensive gun control debate has established a number of widely supported measures that would contribute to reducing (not eliminating) both the frequency and severity of gun violence.
Perhaps the best reform that is being proposed — and the one that has received large majorities of support in poll after poll — is the recommendation to require a background check on every buyer of a gun. Even large numbers — maybe a majority — of current gun owners support this proposal.