As difficult as it may be to imagine in this age characterized by the sound and fury of Congress’ self-seeking fiction, there was once a time when our elected officials spoke with a passion tempered by experience and governed by reason. That is not to say that everyone was a paragon of eloquence during the adolescence of our fledgling republic, but they still displayed flashes of oratory brilliance with much greater frequency then the political leaders of the present, who often manage the difficult task of speaking out of both sides of their mouth and their ass at the same time. In centuries past, congressional leaders defended our Constitution not with stale patriotic platitudes, but with substance and with style. At the end of his Second Reply to Hayne in 1830, Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster addressed the stated desire of a number of South Carolinians and other assorted southerners to nullify the supremacy of Federal law before Congress. He reminded his colleagues that the we had tried a system based on states rights when we were merely a confederation and found it wanting; that it was then that we convened to form the Constitution that still guides our nation to this day, creating this Federal government that, while limited, is designed to serve as the ultimate arbiter of the rule of law. More than anything, Webster refused to entertain the idea that liberty and union lived independently of one another and would not allow himself to look into the dark heart of secession. “I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion,” Webster said, before proclaiming that he could not, “regard him as a safe counselor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union may be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed.”
It is painfully evident that Senator Webster’s novel concept, his devotion to placing national interest over regional difference, has all but been extinguished in Washington today. For all the patriotic fervor that is foisted upon us in undigestible loads like so much feed forcibly rammed down a goose’s throat, our faith and devotion to the whole of our union has petered out into a sad song and dance in which love of country is conditional on what part of the country you are talking about. As the greatest generation exits the political stage in this country and the Senate loses great men like Daniel Inouye and Bob Dole, men whose partisan rhetoric was always tempered by their shared sacrifice in war and unabiding respect for one another, the ties that bind our nation together begin to unravel. Thus far in the 21st century, we have seen ideology all too often trump humanity, rendering compromise and collective action all but impossible. This past December, the senseless killings in Newtown, Connecticut served as a grisly exclamation point to a year which saw more mass shootings than any other in our history. It was a turning point for some, as former NRA darlings from senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to political pundits like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough were forced to reconcile their concept of individual freedom with the realities of public suffering. It was time to make a change.
Of course, everyone’s definition of change is different. For Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), that change involved listing to the right like a stock car with a busted tire and ginning up fear in the hearts of what few supporters he has left. Last month, shortly after President Obama had delivered a series of Executive Orders supporting such radical actions as nominating a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and starting a national dialogue on mental health, Senator McConnell’s campaign sent out an e-mail in an attempt to galvanize their base around the a delusional defense of 2nd amendment rights that weren’t under attack1. That the e-mail begins, “Dear Patriot, You and I are literally surrounded,” should tell you everything you need to know about the validity of its content. Beyond being a nauseating exaggeration of the threat posed to his constituents, McConnell and his campaign manager Jesse Benton have used the word “literally” in the exact opposite context as its definition requires. 175 years ago our congressmen wrote speeches and pamphlets that evoked the ghosts of Homer and Shakespeare, while now they disseminate e-mails written by underlings with no concept of metaphor.
Honestly, the e-mail itself defies satire. It is worded in such paranoid hyperbole that I can think of almost nothing I could add to the document that would make it any more ridiculous. McConnell’s campaign refers to Senate Democrats as “gun-grabbers,” proclaims that President Obama wishes to be King of America, and ironically informs its readers that, “our freedom is under direct assault,” by a President and congress who are trying to ban assault weapons. The letter closes with an entreaty to sign a Defense of the Second Amendment Pledge, and a reminder that, “from his very first run for office, Leader McConnell has always stood strong for your gun rights.” Unfortunately for Senator McConnell, who is currently the Senate’s 8th most senior member, it’s been 27 years since his first run for office, which has afforded the Senior Senator from Kentucky ample opportunity to contradict himself.
In 1991, Mitch McConnell was one of 71 senators to cast a yea vote for Senate Bill 1241, or as it was more commonly known, the Biden-Thurmond Violent Crime Control Act of 19912. As can be inferred from the two senators whose names grace the bill’s title, the Violent Crime Control Act of 1991 enjoyed a great deal of bi-partisan support, garnering votes from Republican stalwarts such as Trent Lott (MS) & Chuck Grassley (IA) along Democratic staples like Christopher Dodd (CT) & Al Gore (TN)3. The Bill was passed without much fanfare as is evidenced by the fact that a Google search for it does not bring up a single news article written about it, its internet footprint consisting of links to the Library of Congress and GovTrack. However what was not controversial in 1991 isn’t necessarily drama free in 2013, especially in light of some of the remarks in the McConnell Campaign’s e-mail.
As it turns out, the Biden-Thurmond Violent Crime Control Act of 1991 contained a fair number of gun control measures that would make 1991 McConnell the sworn enemy of 2013 McConnell. Here is a partial rundown of the many things Senator McConnell voted in favor of two decades ago, which he surely regrets today:
- Part of the Violent Crime Control Act of 1991 (VCAA) was the Assault Weapons Limitation Act of 1991, which, amazingly enough, limited the transfer, importation, receipt, or possession of any assault weapon to only those weapons possessed by Federal, state, and local governments and assault weapons purchased before the act’s implementation. This act accomplishes a number of the same goals set by Senator Dianne Feinstein’s recently proposed gun ban, which McConnell’s e-mail refers to as one of the top “schemes” the POTUS will use to take away their guns.
- The VCAA of 1991 also included the Gun Criminals Punishment Act of 1991, which limits the sale of firearms by amending the Federal Criminal Code to prohibit the transfer of firearms between to anyone not residing in the home state of the seller.
- While the 2013 Mitch McConnell heartily condemns what he refers to as the President’s “thinly-veiled national gun registration scheme hidden under the guise of ‘background checks,’” 1991 Mitch McConnell voted for them. The VCAA of 1991 mandates that a national instant criminal background check system be implemented and requires all firearms dealers, manufacturers and importers to check with the database before selling a firearm to an unlicensed individual. And, as if that wasn’t enough to discredit his current NRA-induced rage, McConnell also voted to institute a mandatory 7 day waiting period for all firearms transfers between licensed dealers and non-licensees.
- The final and most damning detail of the VCAA of 1991 that McConnell signed off on is something so radical by today’s standards that the mere suggestion of it by a politician is almost unthinkable. As a matter of fact, this is so wonderful that I have to print the exact language from the bill to convey the depths of McConnell’s hypocrisy on gun control:
Sec. 2701(a)(u)(1)(B) The transferee has presented to the transferor a written statement, issued by the chief law enforcement officer of the place of residence of the transferee during the 10-day period ending on the date of the most recent proposal of such transfer by the transferee, stating that the transferee requires access to a handgun because of a threat to the life of the transferee or of any member of the household of the transferee;
So, just in case the legalese tripped you up, allow me to clarify: In 1991, Senator Mitch McConnell voted in favor of a bill that mandated that any individual who wanted to purchase a handgun, had to present the person selling the gun with a note from local law enforcement after a 10-day waiting period had elapsed, saying the person wishing to purchase or obtain the handgun is only doing so because of a threat to their life or the life of their family. I repeat, Mr. They’re Gonna Grab All Our Guns voted for a piece of legislation that made it illegal to buy a handgun unless you were doing so for the sole purpose of self-protection.
The truth is, Mitch McConnell only gives a good god damn about the 2nd Amendment insofar as it helps him get re-elected. 22 years ago, he had just won a second term in the Senate and was beholden to a political climate that was fairly permissive when it came to gun control legislation. Today, he is the least popular member of the Senate, with 55% of Kentuckians actively disapproving of his performance in Washington, and he is up for re-election in 21 months. Mitch McConnell is desperate and his handlers have decided that the best way to be victorious in 2014 is to cultivate the basest fears of their constituency. He is a man who has at some point decided that unity and prosperity were mutually exclusive and that integrity must be the first casualty of success. He is someone who embraces the philosophy of Liberty first and Union afterwards. He is a politician that fell over the precipice of disunion years ago and he’s never coming back.
1The entire e-mail can be found here: http://fatlip.leoweekly.com/2013/01/20/mitch-mcconnells-irresponsible-campaign-email-watch-outtheyre-coming-for-your-guns/
3A full list of SB 1241’s vote is available here: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=102&session=1&vote=00125