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Isakson under fire over gun legislation

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
U.S. Senate photo

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) came under fire recently for his decision not to filibuster gun legislation in the Senate, but he has made his position clear on what he thinks about Second Amendment issues.

On April 11, Isakson voted to begin debate on S.649, the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act, which is the gun control bill that Democrats are pushing in the Senate. This was a procedural vote, and Isakson later voted against an important amendment to the bill that would have allowed it to advance. The procedural vote to begin debate was 68-31, and several Republicans voted with Isakson to bring the bill to the floor for debate.

While conservatives don't support this bill, some Republicans had no interest in filibustering it.

Isakson issued the following statement concerning his vote to allow debate on April 12:

A floor debate on S.649, the proposed gun legislation, presents the best opportunity for supporters of the Second Amendment to offer and vote for amendments that will strengthen and protect the Second Amendment rights of Americans. I remain committed to protecting the unfettered Second Amendment rights of Georgians, and I look forward to reviewing the details of my colleagues’ proposals and to debating gun control on the floor of the Senate. That’s why I voted to proceed to debate, because there’s no ambivalence in the Senate about this issue. Every senator knows where they stand on this issue, and I believe that every senator should go on-the-record and vote.

The U.S. Senate used to be the greatest deliberative body in the world. Whether it remains so is open to debate, but the right to bear arms is something that should be talked about. Avoiding a debate about the Second Amendment and whether S.649 infringes on our rights is the wrong approach. Conservatives should never be afraid to talk about this subject, and if they’re worth anything, they should be able to win this debate.

On April 17, the Senate held votes on several amendments to S.649. One of the amendments was a compromise on background checks offered by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA). Isakson said, “I voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment because of my concerns over its potential impact on private sales and on privacy issues.”

The Manchin-Toomey amendment was defeated by a vote of 54-46, as it required 60 votes to pass. This amendment was a key to advancing the legislation, so its loss was a setback for the bill’s sponsors. The ban on assault weapons was also defeated. These votes reveal a substantial lack of support for the legislation in the Senate. There may be more votes on the bill later this year, but it appears that even in the wake of the Newtown shootings, this bill is headed nowhere. And it is even less popular in the House, where it may not even get a hearing if it did pass the Senate.

In an April 19 newsletter released by Isakson’s office, the junior senator from Georgia restated his position:

I support instant background checks on all retail sales of guns to prevent convicted felons from obtaining them, but I do not support waiting periods or the registration of any firearm. A ban on assault weapons is not the solution to ending mass acts of violence like we have seen in Aurora, Colorado, Newtown, Connecticut and at Virginia Tech. Instead, we need to take a comprehensive approach to solving this problem with a focus on mental health in our country.

Isakson suggests additional actions:

I have called for a thoughtful process to address gun safety, mental health, school security and all other components that contributed to recent acts of mass violence, similar to the work by the 9/11 Commission that made flying safer and has helped us prevent another hijacking of a U.S. plane by terrorists.

If folks think about what the senator is saying, instead of becoming upset because he didn’t support a filibuster to hold up debate, they will see someone who is being deliberative and is supporting the Second Amendment. Besides, there’s no reason not to have senators go on the record with their votes for and against this legislation.

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