OPINION: Congress snubs public opinion (again)

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After the worst mass shooting in the country’s history, Americans hoped that the dysfunction in the 114th Congress could be breached in a moment of national unity.

The first significant action occurred when 38 Democratic senators, led by Sen. Chris Murphy, successfully held the Senate floor for nearly 15 hours to push for a vote on several gun amendments, according to Seung Min Kim and Burgess Everett’s POLITICO article, “Democrats end filibuster, announce GOP to hold gun votes.”

The four proposals that went into the Senate chamber never made it out.

This time was going to be different. This finally wasn’t going to be another mass shooting reciprocated with nothing more than prayers of elected officials on Twitter and an NRA-fueled gun policy demolition derby. This tragedy didn’t prove horrendous enough to produce any preventative measures.

Modern political polarization has managed to skirt around the general public’s views on firearm procurement – a poll conducted in the aftermath of the hate and terror-fueled attack in Orlando showed that nine in 10 Americans support universal background checks, including 92 percent of Republicans, CBS News’ Reena Flores said in, “After Orlando, do Americans support assault weapons ban?”

So what happened?

The 2014 midterm election

For decades, midterm elections have been notorious for their meager participation. Still, voter turnout in the 2014 midterm election defied even the most pessimistic expectations.

Involvement in the last election only narrowly surpassed the 33.9 percent participation rate of 1942 cycle, according to Jose DelReal’s Washington Post article, “Voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest since WWII.”

You seldom get the outcome you hope for by doing nothing. Likewise, the consequences of lackluster political involvement can only be lackluster representation.

Congress’ 16-point approval rating as reported in Gallup’s June polling is only natural for an elected body whose controlling party seemingly does nothing but stonewall policies overwhelmingly favored by citizens. Even the mercy that states have historically shown for their respective representatives looks like it’s been misplaced, seen by a slim majority of their own electors as out of touch and more attentive to special interests, according to Gallup’s 2015 Governance poll.

The National Rifle Association

The NRA’s influence over Republicans is one of the worst kept secrets in Congress.

More than $3 million were spent in both 2013 and 2014 to lobby members of Congress on the NRA’s behalf. The constitutionally-absolutist firearm group has also given $27 million to super PACs, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations known as 501(c)(4) groups, unions, parties, corporations and individuals, among others, according to OpenSecrets.org.

For a local perspective, OpenSecrets.org reported that U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) received $9,900 and $2,150 in 2014, respectively.

Republican opposition to any moderate gun control measures may be out of fear that they could lose their seat to a primary challenger heavily funded by the NRA, UCLA Constitutional law professor Adam Winkler told Rebecca Shabad in the CBS News article, “Why more than 100 gun control proposals in Congress since 2011 have failed.”

The future

Senate Democrats may yet get the last word on related gun legislation.

If Donald Trump doesn’t completely snag down-ballot Republicans on his own, the odds of retaining the Senate (and the House in a longshot) will, Jane C. Timm said in NBC News’ article, “Donald Trump is down-ballot Republicans’ biggest risk.”

To take control of the Senate, Democrats need to net at least four of the 24 seats that Republicans are defending this year – six of which were won by Obama twice – and not totally ignore the ten states that they won handily in 2012, according to Harry Enten’s FiveThirtyEight article, “Senate 2016: The Democrats strike back.”

Democrats will without a doubt be assertive in pursuing the vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection that voted down the proposals that were almost unanimously supported by the general public, Seung Min Kim, Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan said in POLITICO article, “Republicans on hot seat over gun control.”

If you believe that suspected terrorists that can’t board airplanes should also not be able to buy a gun, that semi- and fully-automatic firearms built to kill people aren’t appropriate for hunting or what the Founding Fathers had in mind for the Second Amendment, and that your elected officials aren’t acting as an extension of your state’s general beliefs on any issue, there’s a solution.

Complaining on social media and adding a filter to your profile picture is thoughtful, but holding your representatives accountable for their actions is what will truly promote change.

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Contributing writer for the Collegian. I’m a senior studying journalism and mass communications and working on minors in political science and music. I also manage digital operations as a communications fellow with the Kansas Democratic Party; I do not report on or write about anything political unless it shows up in the opinion section.