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Our View: Gun lobby trumps reason in Senate

First, cool the rhetoric. Every proposal aimed at reducing firearm violence or regulating gun purchases is not an assault on the Second Amendment. President Obama is not coming after your guns. Alaska households will continue to be well-armed until the lion lies down with the lamb -- and even then, just in case.

On the other side of the gun debate, stop serving up discredited stats, like the oft-repeated claim that 40 percent of guns are bought from unlicensed dealers with no background checks. That 40 percent came from a dated, small-sample survey that FactCheck.org found is no longer defended even by one of the survey authors, and that Vice President Joe Biden cautioned against taking as gospel even as he was citing it.

Rumors of gun confiscation are the stuff of the lunatic fringe -- or certain members of the Alaska Legislature with their nullification nonsense.

Background checks and assault weapons bans are not magic solutions to gun violence in America.

But they are reasoned attempts to at least prevent some of the violence that wracks the nation.

Yes, we're a gun culture -- in some quarters, rabidly so. That zeal steals common sense, and has made rational discussion of gun control almost impossible.

We should think about this -- the bipartisan Senate compromise on expanding background checks championed by longtime NRA supporter Joe Manchin of West Virginia couldn't muster the 60 votes required to prohibit a filibuster. So the 54-vote majority simply wasn't enough to pass the measure, which would have included gun show and online sales in mandatory checks. And the debate? As Manchin said, the NRA flat-out lied about his bill. How do you have an honest debate when propaganda rules?

Our two senators voted against the measure. Sen. Mark Begich said it ran counter to Alaska values. What values? What value is violated by a criminal background check before allowing someone to buy a deadly weapon? The Second Amendment? That's protected, as the right of a law-abiding citizen remains protected even with expanded background checks.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski joined Begich in preferring a Republican proposal to strengthen current background checks with thorough screening for mental problems, crack down on gun trafficking and invest in mental health treatment.

These look more like half measures meant to create the illusion of a response to recent killings. And the calls of the NRA and other anti-gun-control forces for an investment in diagnosing and treating mental illness rings a little hollow, given the Republican inclination to cut funding for such programs, not invest more.

Prophecies of eroded rights and midnight raids to seize guns argue that background checks are a slippery slope. In truth, background checks -- and, yes, assault weapons bans and magazine limits -- are an attempt to keep the Second Amendment on the solid ground of reason and reality, and make it harder for the deranged to arm themselves.

The right to self-defense is fundamental; that's the rational basis for an interpretation of the Second Amendment that provides for the individual right to bear arms. But that right comes with tremendous responsibility, including a social responsibility to enact sane laws governing the exercise of those rights.

That's hard to do when lawmakers are afraid to cross the gun lobby with any suggestion of limits or regulation. The question shouldn't be what the gun lobby wants. The question should be how well proposed measures will work.

Our Sens. Murkowski and Begich are in an ideal -- and tough -- position to lead on this issue. Representing a state that's hard-nosed about its gun rights but not necessarily bone-headed about them, they can command attention and move the debate in ways the usual suspects can't.

Both might heed the words of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, infuriated by the Senate's votes this weeks. Giffords, still recovering from a 2011 gunshot wound to the head, wrote in The New York Times:

"They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby -- and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

"... They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done -- trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you -- but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents ...

"Our democracy's history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate -- people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list."

This is an American challenge: balance a right to own deadly force with the responsibility to ensure domestic tranquility -- or, in plainer terms, prevent the massacre of children. It's hard work. Knee-jerk responses and fear of powerful lobbies are no help.

BOTTOM LINE: Gun debate is too important to let gun lobby control it.