William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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THE GUN DEBATE – AT 9:30 A.M. ET:  We get the feeling that the "debate" over gun control is losing steam rapidly, a day before Vice President Biden is scheduled to deliver recommendations on the subject to President Obama.

We favor a true, thoughtful, national discussion on gun violence and gun policy.  We're not getting it.  What we're getting is a group of warmed-over ideas that either have no chance of being passed or no chance, if passed, of being effective.  I have not heard, for example, a single detailed proposal for keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. 

The National Rifle Association, about which good and not-so-good things can be said, came out of a meeting with Biden last week reporting that little was said about actually saving children's lives.  I'm afraid that's true.

Moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is pro-gun, but says he is open to ideas to reduce gun violence, is insisting on a broader, more comprehensive approach to the issue.  From the Washington Post:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Sunday that a stand-alone ban on assault weapons would not win passage in Congress, and that the effort to curb mass shootings must include a broader discussion involving the entertainment industry and mental health issues.

“An assault weapons stand-alone ban on just guns alone, in the political reality we have, will not go anywhere. It has to be comprehensive,” Manchin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has received high marks from the NRA, said in the wake of the mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., that it was time for a new discussion about regulations on assault weapons. He later wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the problem of mass shootings must be addressed in a comprehensive manner, by looking at guns, security, the entertainment industry and mental health issues. He reiterated that view Sunday.

Manchin is correct, and is a responsible voice on this issue.  But liberal Dems see this as an issue that animates their base, and have shown no patience for a careful examination of a very complex subject.

Similarly, Maine's new senator, Angus King, elected as an independent but caucusing with Democrats, is rejecting quick, simplistic action.  From The Politico:

Maine freshman Sen. Angus King, an independent, on Monday expressed coolness toward the possibility of an assault weapons ban.

“The assault weapon ban is a tough one because it’s hard to define what an assault weapon is,” King said on CBS’s “CBS This Morning.” “And if we’re just defining it by what it looks like, that doesn’t do much for me. I’m much more interested in the functionality and whether that’s really a different weapon than my buddies’ semi-automatic hunting rifles.”

And...

King, who said his home state has a strong hunting culture and also a low crime rate, called for a “comprehensive” approach to gun policy.

“I think mandatory background checks and also stronger penalties for people that lie on background checks…we have to do something with the so-called gun show loophole where people don’t have to do background checks,” he said, adding, “Broader background checks, it’s really got to be a comprehensive policy.”

COMMENT:  At least two senators are trying to use their brains.  And they're both men who know something about guns. 

January 14, 2013