The Manchin-Toomey background-check amendment already is a watered-down version of Democrats’ preferred bill. Now, it is about to be put through the legislative blender once more.

The New York Times reports that “the two senators have struggled to assemble the 60 votes needed to pass their measure. They are now trying to bring on reluctant Democrats from conservative states, and in some cases, members from both parties who represent a state together.” That means more accommodations for rural-state senators. (“One approach designed to entice lawmakers representing large rural areas, particularly in Alaska, would exempt residents who live hundreds of miles from a gun dealer.”)

President Barack Obama speaks at an interfaith vigil for Sandy Hook victims - Olivier Douliery/ President Barack Obama speaks at an interfaith vigil for Sandy Hook victims – Olivier Douliery/

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is throwing a monkey wrench into the process by “mandat[ing] universal background checks through the Internet without the paper trail that law enforcement says is needed to track illegal guns.”

Liberals should understand that the greatest utility in the 60-vote threshold is not in “blocking” a vote, but in forcing a higher threshold for passage. That in turn means a bill much more to the minority’s liking, or in this case, a largely Pyrrhic victory.

To sum up, a bill that to begin with would not have prevented either Newtown or Aurora (the guns were purchased legally by those who passed background checks) will be further diluted to (perhaps) capture the needed 60 votes, providing minimally more difficult terrain to traverse if one wants to purchase a gun. An assault weapons ban and limit on high-capacity magazines almost certainly have no chance. At some point, incremental legislation becomes so meaningless and only distracts us from measures that could address the problem more directly. While the legislation helpfully increases funding for detection and treatment of mental illness Congress, for example, has yet to tackle state laws that make it difficult to involuntarily commit people with mental illness who are a danger to themselves or others.

Now, if passage of such a bill is a victory for the president and anti-gun advocates, I am certain conservatives and the National Rifle Association wish them many more such “victories.” But I have to wonder if passage of such an anemic bill is for the president’s benefit (victory!) or the red-state Democrats (nothing burger legislation!) rather than getting at the root of the problem: the mental imbalance (diagnosed or not) of these loner, young males.