The Search for a Gun Bill Poison Pill

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 8 2013 2:48 PM

The Search for a Gun Bill Poison Pill

That Tom Hamburger take on the NRA's successful lobbying has made the rounds for days, calcifying the "smart take" about what could happen. It's the Mark Begich information that really spooks supporters of a new gun bill.

Begich has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill, drafted in consultation with the NRA, that would change the way mental illness is reported in the background check system — a measure that critics say could make firearms more easily available to the mentally ill.

The bill in question is S. 480, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham in February at a confusing press conference where Graham repeated that we needed to "enforce the laws on the books." The problem, from the pro-control perspective, is that it sounds like Congress "doing something," but it rolls back regulations on certain kinds of gun buyers. It would make it easier for somebody who's "adjudicated mentally deficient" to argue that, hey, he's all better now, and buy a gun. And the Bloombergians have been here before, in 2007, when the NRA gave blessing to a post-Virginia tech bill only after it allowed states to unwind those mental health laws.

Advertisement

The White House is staying quiet about this. Yes, the president is giving weekly speeches about the need for a gun bill, but he's not getting into the weeds on what sort of add-on could kill the thing. This is because there might be a tweak that changes the standards, and allows some Democrats or Republicans to save face, without sinking the bill. It's exceedingly difficult to pass a bill, even pass it through a Democratic Senate, if the NRA announces it will "score" a vote against it. (You get a yearly letter grade congratulating you for your gun votes. If a vote's scored, and you go the wrong way, you tumble off the Dean's List.)

Ideally, Democrats would like to pass a watered-down bill -- yes, this is ideal for now -- that makes a few concessions to the gun lobby. If the NRA can come out of this crowing about victory, it makes the bill easier to get through the House. If Democrats break the NRA in the Senate, well, where does the bill go?

Here's another factor that could work for Democrats. Begich isn't alone; there'll be other Dems who want to cast a vote that gets them closer to the NRA. But there could be reforms that effectively advance the NRA's goals while on the surface appearing to advance the Democrats' goals. Liberals would need to count on "no" votes killing those reforms in the amendment stage, from some of the same conservatives who vote against even the most draconian budgets because they're not viewed as conservative enough.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.