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Howard Fineman Headshot

Here's To States Saving Gun Control

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WASHINGTON -- Let's hear a round of applause for the Founding Fathers, those dead white men whom conservatives love to lionize. Had it not been for the founders, there would be no relief from the spectacle of a U.S. Congress bound and gagged by the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America.

More than two centuries ago, the founders assembled a system of government as complex, but elegant, as an 18th-century clock: a Newtonian mechanism of political wheels, gears and weights driven and regulated by distributed power. They created a commander in chief and a national military, but left the "police power" where it always had been: with the states.

Of course, it took a Civil War, a civil rights movement and a Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice to overcome the nightmarish racial consequences of the latter decision.

But that doesn't mean the concept of states' rights is without value, deep historical and constitutional validity, or political necessity. The states can be "laboratories" of reform; they can also be political safety valves at times when the federal machinery in Washington seizes up.

That is what's happening now. Even "small government" conservatives -- if not especially them -- should be thankful that states that want to enact their own strict gun control measures have the freedom to do so. The list so far includes Colorado, Connecticut and Maryland, and others will follow suit.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and his Democratic "allies" in Congress seem on the verge of conceding that they will pass exactly nothing substantive by way of new legislation. Republicans have formed a near-unanimous defensive phalanx, and not enough Democrats have the fortitude to try to bust through it, even if they could.

Senate Republicans are planning a filibuster that would even deny the president his one minimal request: that there be up-or-down votes on various gun control measures.

The GOP doesn't want recorded votes because they know their stand, especially against universal background checks, is deeply unpopular with the public. President Obama, though recently reelected by a healthy margin (remember that?), doesn't have the clout to shame them into it.

So that leaves Democratic governors such as Martin O'Malley of Maryland, Dannel Malloy of Connecticut and John Hickenlooper of Colorado to lead the way to reform.

The traffic in guns of war will not end. Only federal law can establish effective systematic safeguards. Until then, the action is and will be in the states, and for that -- and for them -- we should give thanks.