Too many senators support easy access to guns for criminals and people who are dangerously mentally ill.

That's right. Preserving the ability of a criminal to buy a lethal weapon is more important.

That's what U.S. senators - including Arizona's Jeff Flake - told us with their vote Wednesday against legislation that would require a background check with almost every gun sale.

Flake bears particular responsibility. He is, or maybe was, I don't know, friends with Gabby Giffords - the congresswoman shot in the head at point-blank range on Jan. 8, 2011.

Heck, and I don't say this often, even Arizona Sen. John McCain is right on this issue. He was one of the few Republicans brave enough to support background checks.

Because of Flake and his buddies, criminals can still buy guns without background checks.

It's a good day for people who've been convicted of domestic violence, but darn it, just need to buy a gun.

And we can't forget the good news for people who have made threats against spouses, children, neighbors, whoever - because they can still pick up a piece whenever they want. No questions asked.

Flake and his ilk are protecting those folks. But they're certainly not protecting us - and they're not protecting children.

Flake said the legislation went "too far" because it would require checks for sales "including between friends and neighbors."

Well, we wouldn't want to keep criminals from buying guns, lest we inconvenience any "friends and neighbors."

A background check is not a big deal. I know, because I just underwent one. Not to buy a gun, I don't want a gun.

I had to be fingerprinted and undergo a state and federal background check so I could volunteer in an elementary school.

That's right.

Want to use a book in the presence of a child at an elementary school? You need a background check to verify that you're not a criminal.

But want to buy a gun? Go ahead - after all, what's a felony conviction between a couple of strangers who've found each other on the Internet?

The compromise that was voted down in the Senate, 54-46, on Wednesday afternoon wasn't revolutionary. It wasn't even the full measure of what needs to be done.

It would have required almost everyone buying a gun to undergo a background check. It's what licensed gun dealers must do now. It wouldn't affect current gun owners, and it wouldn't have kept anyone who has the right to buy a gun, from purchasing a gun.

But the National Rifle Association lied about the background-check legislation to get its way.

And it worked. People believed lies. The NRA and its supporters pressured their senators.

What a victory they must be savoring. Another criminal can buy a gun in peace. Hallelujah. Amen.

What's especially galling - is there even a way to measure that any more? - is how supporters of the status quo just wave off people's lives, as if they didn't, and don't, matter.

Columbine? Aurora? Tucson? Sandy Hook?

Don't be swayed by emotions, they say. How dare background-check supporters exploit tragedies, they say. We've heard it from politicians, NRA leaders, pundits, people posting on Facebook.

So let me understand this: The woman who was shot in the head is not relevant to the discussion of increasing public safety because she's biased … by being shot in the head.

The perspective of the man whose wife was killed at school does not count, because she was shot to death.

The American who is moved by the violence in our culture to lobby for public safety doesn't have a valid point of view, because empathizing with a family whose 6-year-old was shot to pieces shows emotion.

Such insults dismiss the firsthand information, the primary-source experience of the thousands upon thousands of Americans who have been so dearly affected by gun violence.

Guns in the hands of criminals are the problem, supporters rush to point out.

Yes, but senators would let criminals buy guns without pesky background checks.

Supporters of the status quo can't have it both ways.

They can't be allowed to blame criminals for the deaths and damages caused by guns - while working so damn hard to protect those criminals' ability to buy their deadly weapons unhindered.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears Thursdays. Email her at