Democrats beating that “assault weapon” ban drum is why the Republicans are in the driver seat in the first place. It’s an ignorant policy that accomplishes nothing, except driving probably close to a million independent voters to the GOP. Democrats should focus on measures meant to vet who can have a firearm, not what they can have. The talk of mental illness is part of that, though you’re absolutely correct that this idea shouldn’t be applied in such a way that stigmatizes everyone with mental illnesses as being prone to violence.
At present, anyone who has been adjudicated as mentally ill or involuntarily committed is barred from purchasing a firearm. Maybe that’s still too broad, but its better than just the vague descriptor “mentally ill.” Regardless, we’re still left with the problem that background checks aren’t required on private sales, and that the data on people adjudicated as mentally ill often isn’t reported to the background check system. The latter issue is how the Virginia Tech shooter was able to buy multiple guns, despite a background check. In the wake of that, Congress did take some steps to try and improve that reporting. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars were made available to states to modernize their systems for tracking this data and enable it to be transmitted to the background check system. But it’s a voluntary arrangement. Only 26 states have applied for this assistance, and less than half of the money appropriated for it has been awarded.
Of course we’d also be better off by actually providing mental health care for everyone in the first place. People with mental illnesses usually aren’t violent, but the few who are usually haven’t had any kind of treatment in a long time, if ever. Unfortunately, this probably won’t be a priority for the party in control. Which brings me back to my opening sentence. The Democrats vastly underestimate how their electoral success is damaged by these policies, policies which have no real effect anyway. And that in turn prevents them from being in a position to implement other policies, like universal healthcare for example, which actually would have an effect. It’s bitter irony. Hopefully they wise up by 2020.