There is a widespread perception within political circles that voting to curtail access to semiautomatic military-style rifles through a ban or more extensive background checks could be catastrophic to individual Democrats and the Democratic brand in large swaths of the country. So, you have that on the one hand, and then on the other hand you have polling data that shows that everything the president has proposed is popular. You also have the example of the NRA’s abysmal failure to help their preferred candidates win in the 2012 elections. Perhaps the perception is overstated.
If I were the running the administration’s effort to pass gun legislation, I’d get really granular in my polling so I could go to any member of Congress and tell them what their constituents support and what they don’t. I think extending background checks to private non-licenced sales and limiting magazine sizes to ten bullets are probably the two items that poll well in every district in the country, and they may wind up being the only two things that pass. That actually wouldn’t be a terrible result if it were coupled with something useful on the mental health end of things.
However, it is really hard to link mental health to gun ownership in a way that doesn’t have adverse effects. You don’t want to dissuade people from seeking help because they worry they’ll lose their 2nd Amendment rights. Yet, that’s precisely what needed to happen to the shooters in the Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown massacres. Someone smarter than me needs to develop legislation on this, but there should be some study done on it before the government goes in and screws with the incentives people have to seek psychological help. They could easily make the country more dangerous by increasing the number of people whose problems go untreated. For now, it may be a better route to just increase the number of beds available for people with serious debilitating mental problems and to fund some studies.
I’d like to hear what Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) thinks about the mental health end of this. He’s leading the effort to make sure crazies can’t buy guns, and I support that effort, but I have some concerns.