04/19/2013 12:06 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2013

Pressure Cookers Kill Political Courage, Too

However tragic the effects of a pressure cooker filled with explosive powder and shrapnel, there is a worse way to use one: cook elected officials to death. That's the effect of the gun-lobby pressure cooker where they turn up the heat until members of Congress wilt into spineless mush.

I learned about kitchen pressure cookers in the '50s. My father, ever adoring of clever innovations and ever despairing about my mother's lack of culinary skills, brought home this newfangled pot with a steam vent on the locking top. Mom, raised in an intellectual New England family whose cook never permitted the children entry to the kitchen, thought cooking meant heating something up. Period. Unfortunately, the new pressure cooker advanced nothing but the speed and thoroughness with which any foods placed in it could be reduced to undifferentiated slime.

You see why I make the analogy with D.C. We have witnessed this wilting process writ large on the national scene with the failure of the Senate to pass any measure that would in any meaningful way reduce the carnage caused by the 100,000,000+ guns Americans possess.

And all because of the pressure cooker into which the gun-industry lobbyists have tossed a fistful of our representatives, weak-minded enough to believe they are defending the Second Amendment or craven enough to pretend that no measure is worth enacting unless it can provide perfect protection from gun violence for all people at all times.

Both excuses for inaction are bogus in the extreme. Certainly the history of gun-control legislation and Supreme Court interpretations of the Second Amendment is extraordinarily complicated, replete with legalistic zigs and zags and even far-fetched justifications rooted in ancient laws of foreign countries, of all things. Fine, play those silly games and acknowledge that England's 1689 Bill of Rights had influence way back then in our own Constitution's provisions. But I thought we fought the Revolutionary War so we could think for ourselves.

The bald truth is that nothing but political cowardice prevents our employing common sense today in enacting updated provisions for conditions beyond the imagining of the Framers. They seem largely to have wanted to ensure that if the Brits had second thoughts about letting the colonies go, the Minutemen would be sufficiently armed to repel them once again. Those dutiful owners of muzzle-loaders were automatically enrolled in the militia, at the ready. My guess is that today's enthusiastic owners of assault rifles probably have scant enthusiasm for shipping out to Afghanistan to try their luck on the battlefield where people actually shoot back at them.

Look, everybody knows that the only people who can define a cogent need for the continuing sale of large-magazine, high-output assault rifles are the managers of the gun-manufacturing companies who fear being fired if they don't meet their revenue targets. Granted, their desire to keep their jobs reflects a valid personal need. But it conflicts with the public's need to keep these fearsome weapons out of the hands of anyone but the military and law-enforcement officers. Smart executives morph their companies away from dying markets all the time, and it's now time for the gun manufacturers to learn how to do that, too.

The other prevailing excuse of legislators -- that any given proposed measure won't solve the whole problem -- is a classic example of dishonoring the longtime maxim that "The perfect should not be the enemy of the good." Because there is a glimmer of truth to their assertion, it elicits from all too many a sad nod of understanding and sympathy instead of the outraged demand that they get cracking on enacting all the rest of the measures that will fill the gaps left by whatever they are currently running away from enacting.

Again, let common sense prevail. Nobody expects that perfect safety from gun violence will result from legislation, no matter how many measures and how comprehensive they may be. But nobody believes, either, that an all-out campaign to enact key provisions won't reduce deaths by irresponsible access to guns. Eliminate them totally? Of course not. Reduce them? Unquestionably. And so failure to take these measures means that blood is on the hands of those who might have acted but failed to do so. And so, too, is that blood on the hands of those who make it their business to discourage legislators from doing the right thing.

"Shame on you!" rang from the gallery in the Senate as the background-check measure failed, prompting the eviction of the two women who shouted it. Unfortunately, the Sergeant-at-Arms evicted the wrong parties from the Senate chambers. All 46 of them remained on the floor.