“We are the 90 percent.”
“Tucson Victims Will Remember Your Vote.”
“Public Safety: Nonpartisan Issue.”
Those were some of the signs being held by the near-80 protesters who rallied outside U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s office on April 19.
The protest, which lasted more than an hour, was in response to Flake’s vote against expanded background checks for commercial gun sales made at gun shows and on the Internet.
Senators Patrick Toomey, R–Pa. and Joe Manchin, D–W. Va. were the sponsors of the bill, which was voted down in the Senate on April 17.
Flake called the bill too broad, but suggested that a more streamlined version would gain support from himself and the majority of Congress.
“I hope this debate isn’t over. I hope we can continue,” Flake told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We do need to take measures to make this situation better and we can do so in a way that is consistent with the Second Amendment.”
That statement wasn’t good enough for the five organizations primarily making up the protest group, which at the end of the gathering, turned in a signed petition to Flake’s office that criticized his vote, though neither Flake nor a representative was present to accept it.
Flake's Constituent Services Representative, Melissa Martin, had collected other petitions from the crowd leading to that point.
The five groups present included the Tucson Community Against Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action, Coalition To Stop Gun Violence, MoveOn, and United Methodist Church.
Tucson resident Johnna Matthews called Flake a “coward” for his vote, and said he is “afraid of the NRA.”
“He’s for gun manufacturers instead of for the nine out of 10 people in Arizona that want (background checks),” she said.
A survey from the bipartisan group Mayors Against Illegal Guns shows that 90 percent of registered voters in Arizona support comprehensive background checks. On the national level, polls showed that 86 percent of U.S. citizens supported the bill.
Though some protesters were also present to object to extended magazine clips and assault weapons, area resident Morrie Newell was not.
“This doesn’t impact anybody’s ability to have a gun,” said Newell. “This has nothing to do with that. You can get all the crazy guns you want. This is a safety measure, and the fact they won’t make one little move on this is absurd.”
A measure to ban high-capacity magazines and assault weapons was also voted down in the Senate on April 17.
Regardless of the type of gun owned, Tucson protester Peter Wehinger said all should require registration.
“We have cell phones, computers, cars, prescription drugs, all that is registered,” he said. “Why can’t we register guns? This is total insanity.”
Referring to the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon, Wehinger questioned where the line should be drawn.
“When you look at a situation like today in Boston, you have to ask, ‘What about pressure cookers, and hand grenades, and IEDs – does the NRA want those to be available from Amazon.com?’”
Tucson resident David Sadker said Flake, whose office is located near the Safeway where former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot, is being “disingenuous to his colleague.”
“Here’s a little irony. His office is here, there’s a tragedy one block over there,” he said.
A few gun owners were present in the crowd as well, including Tucson resident Michael Bangs, the owner of a handgun and hunting rifle.
“I think a lot of gun owners feel like I do, but they also think their Second Amendment right is being infringed upon, and I do not. There is no place in society that requires anyone to have an assault or military-type weapon for high capacity. They are for nothing but killing.”
When asked whether he thought criminals could still get their hands on assault weapons regardless, protester Stan Young said, “You can say that about any law. Our cars are registered, bad people drive. If you stop one death with this law, I’m happy.”
While Flake voted against the measure for extended background checks, fellow Ariz. Sen. John McCain voted in favor of the law, which despite having a majority still failed in the Sentate. The vote was 54-46 in favor. However, to move forward to the House of Representatives, the bill would have needed 60 votes.
Following the measure failing, President Barack Obama called it a sad day for Washington while former Rep. Giffords expressed her anger in an op-ed print the following day in the New York Times.
“On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get ahold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count,” she said.
(Editor’s Note: Thelma Grimes contributed to this story.)