The second-ranking House Republican said Tuesday that he supports improving the federal background-check system for gun buyers but stopped short of endorsing universal checks on all weapon purchases.
The comments by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) came as two GOP lawmakers from suburban districts announced plans to co-sponsor legislation to make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time. The moves signal potential openings for bipartisan compromise on gun control, a debate so far dominated by Democrats with little said or done by Republicans.
Cantor, giving the most specific comments on gun control by a GOP congressional leader since President Obama outlined his proposals in late January, told CNN in an interview that lawmakers could consider adopting a plan implemented by Virginia after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. Since the shootings, the state has linked mental-health information to law enforcement databases used to conduct background checks for gun purchases.
"I think that we can take a lot of lessons from what Virginia did and put it in place at the federal level," Cantor said. "Because there’s a lot of states that aren’t doing what Virginia is doing to try to beef up the database for the background checks to make sure that we actually can do something that does have a chance at reducing the likelihood and hopefully eliminating that from happening again."
Cantor's actually scapegoating the mentally ill to take the focus off guns, but it's a start. A person can only change the subject if you let them. He wouldn't say he'd support universal background checks -- but he just as carefully avoided saying he wouldn't. When CNN followed up with his office, Cantor's aides refused to clarify his position on universal background checks as well. Conclusion: he doesn't want to say yes, but he's terribly, terribly afraid of the bad PR and backlash that would come from saying no. He's on the ropes. Give him a face-saving measure and he'll probably take it.
And it may very well be that the assault weapons ban was always meant to be the gecko's tail here, designed to break off easily, while leaving the rest of the gun control package intact. Give Cantor the assault weapons ban, let him do a victory lap around wingnut media, and get the most effective regulations passed -- universal background checks and a stricter gun trafficking law that makes straw purchases much more difficult. Getting those two would be a big win.
There is no doubt that whatever happens here won't end the gun control debate. And whatever happens won't end the push for stricter and saner controls. Already, polling shows that an NRA endorsement is seen as a negative by most voters -- the momentum is clearly not on the side of those opposed to seeing our incredibly loose gun laws tightened up. In a lot of districts, ads telling voters a candidate took money from the NRA or scores high on NRA "report cards" might be enough to get rid of a few speed bumps to reform in coming elections. What George H.W. Bush did for the word "liberal," we may be able to do for "NRA supporter."
If we get the background checks and the gun trafficking law, we score a big win. We can get the assault weapons ban later -- in one big chunk or a bit at a time. This won't be over. Not by a long shot.