Donald Trump finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. The president is walking a minefield on the issue of gun control and it’s proving difficult to find a way through.
Trump has apparently decided to support some kind of background check legislation and is tempted to include helping states implement “red flag” laws to deny guns to those deemed a threat. But how far will he go? No doubt, there are some proposals for background checks — regulating sales between two friends, for example — that would be a deal breaker. But are the Democrats really interested in getting something done or in trying to make Trump look bad?
White House and congressional staffers have spent the past month trying to find a bill or package of bills that could pass the Senate, narrowing down what could gain the necessary support from Democrats and Republicans.
Trump, who has appeared to waffle on how far he’s willing to go in support of gun control measures, has yet to make any decision on substance or on whether to back a package of bills, a new piece of legislation or an existing bill, the official said.
Republicans in Congress will need backing from Trump to provide them cover and help sell any bill to their base of pro-Second Amendment voters.
That may prove to be difficult. Trump or no Trump, some Second Amendment absolutists are going to be unhappy.
Among the other measures the White House has been exploring are ways to help states implement so-called red flag laws that would take guns away from people deemed a potential threat, and a bill to increase penalties for those who buy a gun for someone else in order to help them evade background checks. Another bill would notify local law enforcement officials if someone fails a background check to purchase a gun.
The White House has been looking at possible mental health measures, but a legislative solution to that has been harder to find. It has ruled out supporting any bill that would limit sales of any type of guns and ammunition, such as an assault weapons ban.
Any attempt to regulate gun sales due to mental health issues will be problematic. As the Heritage Foundation made clear in a report on the state of laws regarding mental illness and guns, “The relevant question is often not whether there are mechanisms in place to prevent people suffering from a serious mental illness who pose a danger to themselves or others from possessing firearms, but rather whether those mechanisms are being adequately utilized by the relevant authorities.”
The report continued:
Moreover, because mental illness is so transient in the lives of so many individuals—and because the vast majority of mentally ill individuals are not and will never become violent (especially when treated)—laws restricting fundamental constitutional rights must contain adequate due-process protections and refrain from using broad, over-inclusive prohibitions.
Denying someone the right to purchase a weapon because they were on anti-depressant medication for a while is a civil rights and due process issue. The report recommends that states and the federal government should focus on “intervention and prohibition for specific individuals whose actions evidence that they pose a heightened risk of danger to self or others.”
It seems probable that, barring some last-minute monkey wrench thrown into the mix by Democrats, the president will end up supporting some sort of gun control legislation.