In the coming weeks, the Senate will begin consideration of new gun legislation. Along with several of my colleagues, I have declared my intention to resist an immediate vote on any new restrictions that would serve primarily to limit the freedoms of law-abiding citizens rather than reduce violent crime.
Unfortunately, the current gun control proposals do just that. So we have informed the Majority Leader that we will exercise our procedural right to require a 60-vote threshold in order to bring this legislation to the floor. We have done this for three reasons:
First, the Senate serves an important function in our democracy by encouraging deliberation and making it more difficult for a temporary majority to impose its will unilaterally. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate's rules and procedures allow for meaningful debate and help ensure that a bare majority of Senators do not impose controversial legislation on the American people without robust debate, discussion and broad-based consensus.
During the recent budget debate, I offered an amendment to establish a two-thirds requirement for the passage of any new gun legislation. Six Democratic senators voted with a nearly united Republican caucus to support my amendment by a vote of 50 to 49. This vote demonstrated that a majority of Senators, including at least six Democrats, believe that new gun legislation should have broad bipartisan support in the Senate before it becomes law.
To help ensure that new gun laws aren't forced through the Senate with the narrow support of just one party, we will require a 60-vote threshold to proceed.
Second, this debate is about more than magazine clips and pistol grips. It is about the purpose of the Second Amendment and why our constitutionally protected right to self-defense is an essential part of self-government.
At its core, the Second Amendment helps ensure that individuals and local communities can serve as the first line of defense against threats to our persons and property. Any limitation on this fundamental right of self-defense makes us more dependent on government for protection. But government can’t be everywhere at all times, so the practical effect of limiting our individual rights is to make us less secure.
This is deeply troubling to many Americans. Any legislation that would restrict our basic right to self-defense deserves serious and open debate. Requiring a 60-vote threshold helps ensure that we have a meaningful debate rather than a series of back-room deals to push such controversial legislation through Congress with a bare majority.
Finally, many of the current gun proposals are both constitutionally problematic and serve primarily to limit the freedoms of law-abiding citizens. Some of the proposals—like universal background checks—would allow the federal government to surveil law-abiding citizens who exercise their constitutional rights.
But the federal government has no business monitoring where and how often you go to church; what books and newspapers you read; who you vote for; your health conditions; and the details of your private life—including your lawful exercise of Second Amendment rights.
Such limitations may at times make it harder for the government. But the Constitution was not written to maximize government convenience. It was written to protect individual liberty.
We must not narrow the application of constitutional protections in haste; nor should we allow a bare majority to jeopardize basic rights of the American people.
The Senate — and the American people — have an important debate ahead of us. I look forward to this debate and hope that others join me and my colleagues in demanding that our discussions take place in full view of the American people.
Mike Lee is a U.S Senator from Utah and a member of the Senate Judiciary Commitee
Originally published in The Spectrum