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Flip-Flopping John McCain Is No Political Profile in Courage

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There's speculation that the Tucson massacre may have softened John McCain to argue for gun control, that it may have something to do with his current stance in the gun debate. But he's playing politics here, too.

In April, McCain voted for an amendment extending background checks to gun shows and Internet sales. Sadly, the measure failed, six votes shy of the 60 needed to prevent a filibuster.

At the Oro Valley town hall, former Giffords staffer Pam Simon identifies herself as a survivor of Giffords' 2011 "Congress on Your Corner" event, where psychopath Jared Lee Loughner played angel of death.

"I was also wounded on [that] January 8," she tells McCain. "I would like to thank you so much for your vote on . . ."

Applause drowns out the rest. Everyone knows she is talking about the background-check amendment that failed. She asks him if Congress might consider the proposal again.

He gives it a 50-50 chance.

McCain's a pro-Second Amendment senator from a rabidly pro-gun state, but he's emerged a hero in the background-check fight, though his vote didn't make a difference and was canceled out by Jeff Flake's "nay."

Nevertheless, the Obama administration has been glowing in its praise of McCain.

After Joe Biden's recent visit to Sedona to speak at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, the vice president posted a photo of himself and McCain on his White House blog, where he waxed nostalgic about his "old friend of over 35 years," whom he described as "an honorable, decent man" who "has the courage to vote his conscience."

McCain defended President Obama's strident remarks after the background-check amendment failed. And Obama's nonprofit advocacy group, Organizing for Action, recently encouraged its members "to thank Senator McCain for his vote" on the gun legislation by adding their names to an online message of support for him.

Heartwarming stuff, though undeserved. McCain's "yes" on the background-check amendment hardly was brave, nor was it a new position for him. It remains one of the few issues on which he and the National Rifle Association have disagreed.

In May 1999, the NRA hadn't even that small disagreement with McCain. That's when he voted against an amendment closing the gun-show loophole offered by New Jersey U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.

On several occasions since, though, McCain has stated that he supports tightening the loophole.

So it's no surprise that when it comes to any gun legislation more stringent than closing the gun-show loophole, McCain's against it.

In 2009, speaking to NRA members at the group's annual convention, held that year in Phoenix, he patted himself on the back for standing tall against California U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein's 1994 assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

"I voted against the original ban on so-called assault weapons," McCain told the gun enthusiasts. "I made sure the ban ended after 10 years, and if the ban is re-introduced in Congress, I will vote against it."

True to his word this time, when Feinstein attempted to bring back the ban in mid-April, McCain voted no, along with almost all of his fellow Senate Republicans and several Democrats in name only.

In February, at a town hall meeting on gun control and gun rights at the Musical Instrument Museum here, McCain was confronted by Caren Teves, mother of one of the victims of the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

Teves asked McCain to vote for an assault-weapons ban, which would include a prohibition against high-capacity magazines.

McCain rejected the suggestion, saying such a ban had zero chance of congressional approval. And he contended that the ban would do nothing to save lives in urban centers such as Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel has waged war against senseless gun violence.

"Murders in Chicago; there's no assault weapon used in them," McCain contended. "There's no large clip being used. It's a handgun where people go up and kill people. An assault-weapons ban will not have the slightest effect on the murders in Chicago and other metropolitan areas."

Does McCain really think assault weapons never have been used in Chicago? Sure, a nationwide assault-weapons ban isn't a panacea, but it could help reduce the carnage of mass shootings.

Mother Jones magazine recently found that more than half of mass shooters over the past three decades owned an assault weapon, an extended magazine, or both.

Tucson killer Loughner was jumped by bystanders when he stopped to reload after burning through an extended, 33-round magazine. If nothing larger than 10-round magazines had been readily available, Loughner, hypothetically, might have killed fewer people.

A restriction on clips larger than 10 rounds was part of the Feinstein proposal.

But should we really expect a politician like McCain, who has prostituted himself to the NRA, to cross the gun lobby in a more profound way than voting for closing background-check loopholes, a bill he had to know was headed for defeat?

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons