Is Congress Soft on Guns?

As one who has watched Congress make legislation for more years than I care to count, I know the process is rarely a pretty one.

As one who has watched Congress make legislation for more years than I care to count, I know the process is rarely a pretty one. But increasingly the end product is even uglier. That's certainly been the case this week when lawmakers bowed to the wishes of whatever special interest yelled the loudest or yielded to irrational fears of how they thought voters might react.

For starters, take guns and credit cards. The only known link -- before this month -- was the use of the latter to purchase the former or the use of the former to steal the latter. But now Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (opens in new tab) has linked them in legislation. When Congress took up a bill overhauling credit card regulations, he offered an amendment (opens in new tab) allowing people to carry guns -- in some cases loaded and concealed -- in national parks. Coburn says his only interest was to protect the constitutional rights of gun owners, and senators afraid of crossing the National Rifle Association ignored pleadings from park rangers and went along. The House seemed to think it had no choice but to do the same, and Obama wants the credit card bill so badly, he's going to sign it with the gun provision. So now a long-sought unrelated provision that Republicans couldn't get approved under Bush will become law.

Let's leave aside the debate over whether having guns in national parks is a good idea and just ask whether this provision should have been bundled into an unrelated bill. First of all, if it's a constitutional right, as Coburn argues, it doesn't need protection by Congress. It's already guaranteed. And even if it still has popular support nationwide, why don't its sponsors introduce it as a separate bill and let democracy run its course?

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And then there's the profile in courage playing out over Guantanamo Bay. Congress actually made the right call here -- but with no shortage of hysteria and in a way that may tie its hands in the future. Lawmakers have every right to refuse to close the prison for suspected terrorists until Obama presents a detailed plan for what will happen to the detainees. But declaring flatly, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others have done, that they won't allow suspected terrorists to be imprisoned on U.S. soil (opens in new tab) is unreasonable. As NBC's First Read (opens in new tab) pointed out Wednesday, is living near a prison with CONVICTED rapists or murderers safer than living next to a prison with SUSPECTED terrorists? And if we will never allow detainees on U.S. soil, what will we do? Shoot them? Those that belong in jail can be safely kept in jail on U.S. soil. If not, we need a whole new prison system. But Democrats are so afraid of being called soft on national security, that they won't stand up for what they believe in.

And for those who believe no Americans want the Gitmo detainees near them, consider the tiny town of Hardin, Mt., which volunteered to put them in its prison (opens in new tab). What was the response? The state's two senators immediately objected and vowed to block such a move. Now that's a profile in courage for you.

In both the gun and Gitmo case, politicians are treating Americans like idiots, as though no one can look behind empty slogans and scare tactics to consider issues even the least bit complicated. If voters let lawmakers keep getting away with it, they'll be proving Congress right.

Mark Willen
Senior Political Editor, The Kiplinger Letter