Obama and Giffords shame the Senate

Jesse Lewis, Gabby Giffords and President Obama in the Rose Garden (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Jesse Lewis, Gabby Giffords and President Obama in the Rose Garden (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The failure of the Senate to pass legislation to expand background checks for gun purchasers — and a host of other measures — has unleashed a primal scream against Washington and the Senate that won’t ebb anytime soon. Regular folks took to Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustration over how 46 senators could stand in the way of of 90 percent of the country. But it pales in comparison to the blistering words from President Obama yesterday and Gabby Giffords today in a New York Times op-ed.

“Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious,” Giffords writes. “I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws…” The former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in 2011 during a constituent meet-and-greet in Tucson writes about her visits to senators to urge them to do the right thing. And she nails them for doing nothing.

Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

Giffords pulled the bark off the Senate hours after standing in the Rose Garden with the president and the families of some of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Obama was equally blunt and unsparing in his assessment of what happened. He usually is reluctant to show anger. Not yesterday.

I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced.  ”A prop,” somebody called them.  “Emotional blackmail,” some outlet said.  Are they serious?  Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?  Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.

Obama and Giffords both called on the American people to hold the Senate accountable. “[Y]ou need to let your representatives in Congress know that you are disappointed, and that if they don’t act this time, you will remember come election time,” the president said. Adding later, “[W]hen necessary, you’ve got to send the right people to Washington.  And that requires strength, and it requires persistence.”

“I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote,” Giffords wrote. “I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.”

Earlier this month, I wrote how Obama needed backup on guns from the American people. I pointed out how he had done everything he possibly could and that it was now time for folks to make their voices heard. But after yesterday’s series of failed votes on measures to do something to help stem gun violence, we’re the ones who need backup now. And, unfortunately, we now know the cavalry won’t be coming over Capitol Hill anytime soon.

Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.

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