04/25/2013 01:47 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2013

GOP Logic Vacuum and Gun Violence

You might wonder why an environmental writer would devote space to the topic of gun violence. The answer is not complicated. Public health is an environmental condition, and gun violence is indisputably a public health hazard.

That gives the writer license for an expression of outrage. The flimsy reasons senators gave for recently defeating a minimalist expanded background check for gun owners bordered on the nonsensical.

Senators may be foolish at times but they are not stupid. Their contrived excuses for voting against a modest gun safety proposal were nothing more than pandering to the gun lobby. Beyond self-serving political expediency, who knows what their real beliefs were, assuming they had any firm convictions at all on the matter.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) argued that expanding the background check system would result in the government "punishing and harassing law-biding citizens."

Rebuttal: If law-biding Americans can tolerate a license requirement to operate a motor vehicle, surely they can withstand the "harassment" of a background check as a prelude to acquiring a weapon.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) voiced a constant refrain of expanded background check opponents, namely that instituting such a reform would not stop gun violence and thus was a waste.

Rebuttal: This specious argument of "making the perfect the enemy of the good" is used repeatedly by gun rights advocates to obstruct safety reforms. Of course, expanded background checks or any other restriction on gun use won't prevent all violence any more than a driver's license requirement will stop all reckless driving.

Senator Cornyn also maintained that the background checks would interfere with the Second Amendment's protection of the individual's right to self-defense.

Rebuttal: Explain how weeding out people unfit to possess a gun impedes law-biding citizens from defending themselves with legally acquired firearms?

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) contended that we don't need new laws; we only need to better enforce existing ones.

Rebuttal: Yes, current laws ought to be more effectively enforced, although Grassley and many of his colleagues voted to cut federal funding to police departments around the country. Just as importantly, Grassley is spouting a non-sequitur. As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) noted: "improvement in the enforcement of existing laws and efforts to give law enforcement officials better tools to do their job are not mutually exclusive."

Grassley also argued that expanded background checks would "start us on a slippery slope" towards gun confiscation.

Rebuttal: Suppose a governmental entity institutes a 60 mile per hour speed limit. Maybe some day, it decides to lower it to 55. Maybe some day, it will tell us when and when not we can use our cars. The possibilities are endless if we let our minds run wild.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) maintained that an expanded background check was a bad idea because it would mostly target law-biding citizens.

Rebuttal: How would we know they were law-biding citizens without conducting a background check?

The April 17 Senate debate was a public embarrassment in which a minority employed insults to logic to thwart the will of a vast majority of the nation.