On July 4, 1776, the 13 “united States of America” declared their independence, throwing off oppression from Great Britain. The government in the new country would derive its “just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The recent celebration of our country’s independence was tragically marred by the Highland Park, Ill., massacre of seven Americans with dozens more wounded during a patriotic parade. This tragedy underscores that our nation is still being oppressed, not by another country but by a minority of U.S. senators who use the undemocratic Senate filibuster rule to block even debate on a bill to address critical national issues like gun violence.
It had been nearly 30 years since Congress passed legislation addressing this issue. One of those laws banned the production of assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines for sale to the public. That prohibition ended a decade later, in accordance with the law’s sunset provision.
Since then, the public’s support has grown even stronger for stricter gun laws to stop the weapons-of-war mass killings that occur every week. But our Senate, oppressed by the minority’s use of the undemocratic filibuster rule, failed to deliver for the public.
It took the recent slaughter of seniors grocery shopping in Buffalo, N.Y., and children being massacred in their Texas classroom to move enough Republican senators to join the Democratic majority to meet the 60-vote threshold of the filibuster and pass a gun safety bill.
But while the bipartisan bill does have some improvements that will save innocent lives, it is very modest and ignored the overwhelming public demand for strong measures needed to protect Americans at school, the grocery store and now a patriotic parade.
The public wants a ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons. If not, the public wants a ban on selling these weapons of war to those under 21. And the public wants mandatory, universal background checks to stop criminals, emotionally challenged or those who intend to commit killing atrocities from getting any firearms.
Yet, because of the filibuster rule, it took 30 years for the Senate to deliver a very modest gun control bill.
This is not democracy when the Senate minority — fearing not being re-elected because of the ire of their base and special interests — can hold the Senate and the safety of all Americans hostage.
Senators continue to support the filibuster. Senators in the minority, and some in the majority, cherish protecting their political power at the expense of protecting the rest of us from gun violence.
This same Senate filibuster rule is also responsible for Congress not passing critical legislation to protect our nation’s democracy and the constitutional rights of our citizens.
In some states, the enemies of democracy have or plan to pass state laws to allow state legislatures the ability to nullify elections when they do not like the results. These undemocratic actions of state legislatures will move the country toward becoming an autocracy of one-party rule.
If that happens, not only will our democracy be lost but so will our economy. A vibrant entrepreneurial economy depends on a strong democracy. The two go hand in hand. For example, one needs to look only at Vladimir Putin’s autocracy and a dismal economy.
The Senate filibuster rule is also stopping that body from protecting the right of women to control their own bodies via abortion services and even contraceptives. Other constitutional rights are also in jeopardy of being lost soon, but the Senate is impotent to protect these rights because of the filibuster rule.
The Senate must start protecting our democracy, our economy, our freedom from mass killings and our constitutional rights.
But first, it must pursue its own democracy by throwing off the oppression of its minority who use the filibuster to thwart the will of the governed.