There is a bill under consideration by the U.S. Senate which has already been passed by the House that would close a loophole that allowed Seung-Hui Cho to buy the weapons that he used to kill 32 innocent people here last spring. It is a bill which is supported by the National Rifle Association (among others); it seems absolutely certain to pass, if it ever makes it to a floor vote. Basically, it gives states incentives to report those who are adjudicated for mental illness to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used to do background checks on people who want to buy guns. Since it is already illegal for these persons to buy guns under federal law, this is really just closing a loophole, since most states currently report criminal offenders to the system but fail to report those who are committed to a mental institution or compelled by a judge to receive treatment (as was the case with Mr. Cho). This bill might not have prevented the tragedy of April 16, but would have at least made it more difficult for Mr. Cho to obtain his weapons. But the bill is currently being stalled by a hold placed by one senator: Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
For those of you not versed in obscure Senate rules, any senator can place a hold on a bill. This hold is, essentially, a threat to filibuster. It can be overcome, but it can take a considerable amount of the Senate’s time to overcome such a threat (unless the Senator is bluffing), and so many bills get held up for a long time by these holds. (Perhaps I’ll write more about these rules later, as I think they are fascinating and even perhaps useful on occasion.) But, I think it’s time for the Senate leadership to make Coburn (a Republican) put up or shut up on a bill with such broad support.
At the same time, Senator Chris Dodd (a Democrat) announced last week his plans to put a hold on the Senate FISA renewal bill because it grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally gave the government telephone records without a warrant. Will the Senate leadership (Democrats, remember) honor the hold of their colleague Senator Dodd, as they have the ridiculous hold of Senator Coburn? Rumor holds that there are plans to disregard Dodd’s hold and force him to stage a filibuster on the floor of the Senate. Good grief.
Shameful. Completely shameful.