Manchin: Bipartisan Senate group meeting tonight to discuss gun-control ideas

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

This would be a heavy lift in an election year, with the midterms just five months away.

But with a number of Senate Republicans retiring and many more not up for reelection until 2024 or 2026, it’s conceivable that Democrats could scrape 10 together. In fact, one of the few Republicans who’s on the ballot in November and facing a tough race might be incentivized to vote yes because of the quirks of her election. That would be Lisa Murkowski, who’ll need major help from Dems in Alaska to overcome a Trump-backed challenger from the right under the state’s new ranked-choice voting system.

Manchin says they’re going to huddle:

There are two options here realistically and a new assault-weapons ban isn’t one of them. Mitt Romney has already ruled that out, calling it an issue for the states, and it’s hard to imagine any coalition of 10 Republicans for tightening gun laws not including Romney. The lowest-hanging fruit would be passing universal background checks, an issue that draws around 90 percent support among the public and has been kicked around in Congress for years. Romney’s open to that one:

Manchin and Pat Toomey famously co-sponsored a bill in 2013 that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and Internet sales but not to private sales between friends and family. The universal background checks bill passed by the House would include those private sales as well, which makes Manchin skittish, so the Manchin/Toomey bill may be the only version with a shot at 60 votes. Will passing it stop any mass shootings? Almost certainly not, but at this point I think moderate Dems and Republicans might be willing to pass token legislation just to show that both parties are willing to do *something* after the umpteenth horrific massacre. “Do something” is a terrible justification for lawmaking, especially at the federal level, but 90 percent public approval for the idea will tempt them.

The second option is red-flag laws, which I mentioned in an earlier post. That one really might stop some mass shootings. And Republicans are interested:

Susan Collins told reporters that she’s discussed her home state of Maine’s “yellow-flag” law with Democrat Chris Murphy, one of the most ardent gun-grabbers in Congress. The yellow-flag law allows law enforcement to petition a court to deny a dangerous person access to guns on the advice of a medical professional. “I think it’s the kind of law that could have made a difference in this case since according to press reports if they were accurate it appeared he suffered from mental illness,” Collins told Bloomberg. “It’s my understanding he bought his weapon legally and passed a background check. So I really think our focus should be on looking at what some states have done on red-flag or yellow-flag laws.”

But there’s a problem — or two problems, actually. One is that there probably aren’t 10 Senate Republicans willing to support a federal red-flag law. Again, Romney is out:

The other comes from attorney Gabe Malor, who asks people to consider the administrative clusterf*** it would cause in federal district courts if they suddenly had to issue rapid rulings on red-flag petitions (ERPOs). Romney’s right, says Malor. There’s a better forum available:

Beyond that, any successful red-flag scheme will require friends or family to intervene proactively to deny a loved one access to guns. And that won’t always happen:

For all of those reasons, as well as the election-year politics involved here, it’s unlikely that they’ll find 60 votes for a federal red-flag law. They might get closer to 60 for a law that would award federal funds to states to help them set up their own red-flag adjudicative programs — presumably Romney would be open to that one — but is money really the reason why only one red state, Florida, currently has a red-flag law? The objection is ideological, not pecuniary. Gun-rights advocates believe any form of new regulation is a step on the most slippery of legal slopes. Today a red-flag law, tomorrow a national gun registry.

Maybe Congress will end up passing something to expand federal funding for state mental-health programs more generally. That won’t stop (m)any shootings either, but the political imperative to Do Something here is immense. Almost as bad as the sense of horror after each massacre is the feeling of total civic paralysis in addressing a recurring problem which literally everyone agrees is abominable.

Here’s CNN cornering Marco Rubio in the Capitol today. Rubio is on the ballot five months from now in Florida and needs strong Republican turnout to prevail. He almost certainly won’t be voting for whatever Manchin’s crew eventually brings to the floor.