In the wake of America’s spate of deadly mass shootings, Democratic lawmakers are once again mounting an effort at gun law reform. President Joe Biden floated some ideas during his visit to Buffalo, New York, saying “there are certain things we can do. We can keep assault weapons off our streets. We’ve done it before. I did it when I passed the crime bill.” He was referring to his 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act’s assault weapons ban. Most of his fellow Democrats are on board and a little over half of all Americans support stricter gun laws. But there is one major obstacle, and it’s a familiar one for Biden’s agenda: Senator Joe Manchin.
Democrats knew they wouldn’t be able to secure 60 votes in the Senate for things like an assault weapons or high-capacity magazine ban, but had hoped to unify the caucus behind expanding background checks. But while Manchin says he favors a 2013 bill he developed with the National Rifle Association called the Manchin-Toomey Bill, which would slightly expand commercial background checks, it is a far more limited expansion than Biden or many other Democrats had been hoping for.
“The Manchin-Toomey is the one,” Manchin said, according to The Hill. “I think if you can’t get that one, then why try to do something just for basically voting for the sake of voting?”
Last year, the House passed a far more ambitious bill that expanded background checks, but Manchin said he does not support that act “at all.”
“The best piece of legislation that we’ve ever had, that most people agreed on, was the Manchin-Toomey,” he told reporters. “We didn’t infringe on anyone’s rights privately.”
Instead, Manchin said he preferred to focus on mental health issues, which he called “the biggest problem.”
“We haven’t done enough with mental illness in this country, and that’s something we should all agree on needs to be absolutely stepped up,” he said. He did not propose any measures for increasing access to mental health resources in the U.S.
Democrats still face nearly unified Republican opposition to even the pared-down background checks reform bill that Manchin touts. Senators Susan Collins and Patrick Toomey are the only Republicans who’ve voiced their support for Manchin-Toomey, and other moderates like Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney are non-committal. For the time being, while voters broadly support general reforms, the political will is simply not there.