While opposition to gun regulation is eroding in the wake of the Newtown shooting, some pro-gun Republicans are trying to hold the line for America’s unfettered right to own a bazooka. It’s hard to tell a grieving nation that guns should remain unfettered, but the conservative communication machine has come up with a new argument: let’s do more for the mentally ill!
Note this does not translate to “let’s pass laws to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill,” who have easy access to guns in the secondary gun market, but instead a renewed federal response to the problem of mental illness. By refocusing the debate on mental illness, conservatives can resuscitate the successful slogan, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” with the added caveat that “only crazy people kill people.”
This focus is distracting (and unfair), because it presupposes a zero sum trade-off between increasing funding for treatment of mental illness and tightening restrictions to keep guns out of the hands of those who fail to respond to treatment.
But the most intriguing development of the mad rush of conservatives to speak up about treating mental illness is that we we’re about to have a major expansion in federal help for the mentally ill. Remember what it is?
Yes, it’s Obamacare. Part of Obamacare is a huge increase in mental health treatment, both indirectly by expanding insurance coverage for Americans and directly by expanding Medicaid, the single largest payer of mental health treatment in the country.
No Republican has expressed support for Obamacare on the grounds that it expands mental health treatment, but with every passing interview, conservatives have driven more and more nails into their opposition to Obamacare, explaining the dire need for policies already coming online by 2014 due to the Obamacare legislation that Republicans have viciously opposed.
The lesson to be gleaned here is that the gun manufacturers’ lobby has more money that the opponents of health care.
But the focus for progressives should be holding these Republicans to the fire when they — like for example Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker — express deep sympathy for the lack of mental health treatment and simultaneously considers blocking the expansion of Medicaid. Keep a list of these Republicans everybody.