Two data points:
First, a Quinnipiac Poll released today found 92 percent of voters support universal background checks on gun buyers. It's doubtful that motherhood, George Washington or the solar system could command comparable support. And while the Quinnipiac number is high, it's not out of bounds. Other polls show support for universal background checks above 80 percent.
Second, a Feb. 5 Washington Post report shows some House Republicans warming to gun regulation. The story's lead said that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor "said Tuesday that he supports improving the federal background-check system for gun buyers but stopped short of endorsing universal checks on all weapons purchases."
CNN tried to get Cantor to detail his position. Here is how the Post reported that:
When asked, Cantor stopped short of saying he supported universal background checks, saying only that "I am for making sure that we increase the quality of information in the database that is in existence already."
Cantor aides declined multiple requests Tuesday to clarify the leader's comments.
What we have here is a confluence of madness. Americans overwhelmingly support background checks on individuals seeking to buy guns. The nation is well aware of instances in which crazy people were allowed to purchase guns and went on to commit mass murder. There were warning signs about the shooters at Virginia Tech University and Tucson, Arizona among other massacre sites.
Yet the second-ranking member of the House Republican leadership cannot endorse a law to make it more difficult for lunatics to purchase arsenals. This is not about America's "gun culture." Cantor doesn't represent rural Utah; his district is suburban Richmond, Virginia.
This is about politics. About a powerful interest group, certainly. About the anti-government paranoia that colors the far right. And about a political party overly indulgent of both. The party has driven itself into an ideological and operational cul-de-sac so narrow that its leaders fear openly aligning themselves with the vast majority of the public on an issue vital to public safety. If your main job description is winning elections, that's the definition of crazy.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)