PERRY/Wicker right to debate guns
Wednesday, April 17, 2013 1:00 AM
In the fifteenth season of The Simpsons, the writers rip on "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," as Lisa and Bart Simpson attend the premier of "Cosmic Wars: The Gathering Shadow." In "The Phantom Menace" an evil Senator uses a trade dispute to initiate an invasion of a planet as a precursor to launching a civil war and placing himself in total control of the galaxy. For many fans, it lacked the sci-fi space-Western feel of the original Star Wars trilogy. The Simpsons play on that mood as Lisa and Bart leave the movie theater in disgust when the one piece of action in the movie involved a giant robot ripping off the roof of the Galactic Senate to take a seat and begin reading a Senate bill. "I can't believe 'The Gathering Shadow' was senate redistricting," Lisa says.
While the episode mocks George Lucas and his script for "The Phantom Menace," it also reflects a culture sometimes consumed with partisan passion that turns procedural votes into monumental struggles of galactic importance. The outrage of some Mississippians against Senator Roger Wicker's vote last week to proceed on debate on school violence legislation many fear would restrict Second Amendment rights reminded me of Lisa's confusion at the movie's dramatic plot.
Wicker voted to proceed with debate and consideration of the bill under an open-amendment process, along with 18 other Senators with an A or A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. That means there will be debates on amendments, votes on amendments and debate on the bill. In the end, Wicker doubts the Senate will have the votes to pass the legislation, but more than that, the final bill is still subject to a filibuster requiring 60 votes. "I would of course filibuster passage of a final bill if it contains gun restrictions, a weapons ban or any infringement on Second Amendment rights," Wicker said. Were the bill somehow to make it through the Democratic controlled Senate, the Republican controlled House of Representatives is unlikely to even consider it.
Still, many conservatives went ballistic: "why debate a right?" Had the "no debate" side of the argument won during the drafting of the Constitution, we would have never had the Bill of Rights including the Second Amendment. In principle, I agree that our freedoms are God given; that freedom is a natural human right. But in practice, I'm thankful there were debates and votes and as a result we have the Second Amendment spelled out to restrain the government. Debate doesn't hurt our rights.
Wicker believes conservatives can win the debate on gun rights; but to win you first have to make the debate. Some Republicans view the election and reelection of President Barack Obama as evidence the GOP has a messaging problem; they believe Republicans need to better explain and deliver the message of conservatism. But "we're not going to talk about the Second Amendment" is not an effective way to deliver that message. If Republicans want to engage the American people on an issue, they should not fear debate.
Don't get me wrong, killing bad bills using parliamentary procedures is a legitimate tool to stop bad policy. Many bills need to die. A filibuster against a motion to proceed to debate is properly used when the rights of the minority are restricted. But when given the opportunity to offer amendments and make the case, why not take the fight into the marketplace of ideas? There is still the opportunity to filibuster later. But outrage over voting on a motion to proceed to consider the bill is minutia drama fit for "The Gathering Shadow" and Simpson's parody.
Had Wicker's vote truly been anti-gun, the National Rifle Association would have been furious. Instead, after the vote, the gun rights organization sent a message to Mississippi NRA members, "Your U.S. Senator, Roger Wicker, has been a strong and consistent supporter of our Second Amendment freedoms and has committed to opposing any anti-gun amendments or proposals that come before the Senate...contact Senator Wicker and thank him for supporting our Right to Keep and Bear Arms and opposing all anti-gun proposals and amendments." For over twenty-five years in the state Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, Wicker has maintained a 100% voting record on pro-Second Amendment issues. I don't think his desire (and vote) to argue in favor of gun rights is some secret dastardly move to switch sides on the Second Amendment.
Politics is persuasion and if Republicans are afraid to debate, and instead abandon the field to the Democrats, the GOP will lose the issue arguments. If angry conservatives play into the hands of liberals by attacking their allies on trumped up issues, they will lose independent voters. To defend freedom, Republicans need happy warriors who can convince voters by winning - not shunning - debates.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.