The “its all about mental health” argument is basically just a political dodge by pro-gun politicians and the fire arms industry. Its almost solely derived from concerns about mass shootings (which are curiously never terrorism even when they have explicitly political motivations, unless its politically expedient). Unfortunately mass shootings are comparatively rare and don’t necessarily contribute all that much to the number of gun deaths and amount of gun violence in this country. There’s some truth to metal health being a factor. A shockingly large number of gun deaths are suicides for example. Though interestingly it seems that these suicides aren’t necessarily among those who are mentally ill in the way we typically assume for these things, mentally ill long enough for us to remove or prevent them from getting guns, or mentally ill enough for anything to be done. And IIRC if you compare places with fewer guns to places with more guns, guns owners vs non-owners etc you find that there are fewer suicides in the absence of guns. So its not as if the guns are a convenient means to an end, and suicidal people will simply opt for rope or a bridge otherwise. The dominant interpretation right now is that since guns are easily accessible, and a remarkably effective and final method for killing ones self. You have a situation where people who are momentarily distraught, in crisis, or intoxicated reaching for their on hand unsecured gun to shoot themselves. Absent that source of self destructive instant gratification people make their way out of that crisis, or fail to kill themselves via other methods allowing them to seek help or otherwise improve their situation. Like wise alcohol (along with other drugs) is a huge contributing factor for gun violence. In accidental shootings, suicides, but also in “crimes of passion” and opportunity. And in just crime in general. Just as domestic violence and abuse are larger factors in total gun violence than the very specific concept of mental health currently being blamed. As are accidental shooting, either from user error, kids playing etc. Crime is a factor as well, and better mental health support isn’t going to effect your gang members or other career criminals too much. Though it might have some effect on less persistent forms of crime if we include addiction under that heading.
Frankly the situation is a lot more complex than “its mental health!” or “less guns will fix it”. For example I think its broadly speaking true that greatly restricting gun ownership won’t necessarily prevent organized crime from obtaining guns should they want to. Nor would universal background checks necessarily reduce the number, or severity of mass shootings. But like wise ignoring all sensible fire arms regulation in favor of increasing our public health support for psychological problems (something we should do anyway) isn’t going to stop your neighbor the fine upstanding citizen from shooting his wife in a moment of anger. Or the kid down the block from shooting himself with dad’s gun because he got dumped. Basic gun regulations can have an effect on some of this. Requiring people to store guns safely. Locked up, with ammo and magazines locked in a separate container. Requiring actual training and safety instruction. Stricter, universal, background checks so those with a history of abuse can’t acquire a gun etc. Most of the gun owners I know support this kind of stuff. And if you look at polling you’ll find in most cases the vast majority of gun owners nation wide support these kinds of measures. Its the manufacturers, right wing ideologues, and NRA who reject them (out of hand). Even to the point where the fire arms companies have gotten writers from outdoor magazines, and fire arms magazines fired from their jobs for daring to discuss these things as anything other than horrible things.
Frankly if you do talk to a lot of gun owners, in their natural environment. Like when I actually go to an actual shooting range to actually shoot guns (don’t own any, uncle is a collector and instructor). The thing you hear over and over is that yes these people are fine with some added restrictions on gun ownership. These people are even fine (and in some cases eager for) added federal involvement. Especially when you can show that they really might have a practical effect. And there’s one really good reason for that. Consistency. As it stands right now gun laws change rapidly and repeated. And they vary with an insane level of granularity from state to state, county to county, and even between cities and towns. It can be difficult to figure out exactly how to stay on the right side of the law, and it can become complicated to do so. And the unstable nature of it all leads to price gouging and purchasing runs. As an example there was a bit a few years ago where it was almost impossible to find .22lr ammunition in my state. It had nothing to do with any actual restrictions on ammunition. But fears stoked by manufacturers, the NRA, and right wing politicians created a sort of “run” on ammo. People were basically buying all of the ammo manufactured or shipped to the state, retailers and manufacturers started gouging. And after a bit when you could find the stuff it was going for something like $50-$60 a box. For ammo that can often be had for less than $5 a box. Like wise my uncle the responsible gun owner keeps a separate set of weapons where he hunts from where he lives. Because its prohibitively risky/troublesome to transport anything from point A to point B given the sheer number of counties he has to go through.
Frankly from where I’m standing, and from what I can see. It looks like if the government wanted to take your guns right now they could. There’s a such a mishmash and mess of regulations in this country that even the most responsible, upstanding, and safe gun owner has likely violated some law, some where, at some time. It would just take some one looking to exploit that to start making it a problem. The current situation is not good for gun owners. Its good for politicians and business. And in the meantime it lets a lot of preventable violence happen completely unchecked.
But your right that there is an aspect of this that’s a clear social problem. And its in the idea that you need a gun, to protect yourself or assert your rights. That adversarial, scaremongering idea that at all times and at any moment there are people who are right about to come shoot you, crime you, take your rights from you. And the only way to be prepared is to have guns and expect to use them on another person at all times. Its a much broader version of the “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun” argument. But there’s no basis in reality for those ideas. Aside from the fact that crime is at all time historical lows. Every single bit of data we’ve been allowed to collect on the subject shows the concept to be hollow. And if you follow it back to its origins, and its driving force today? It comes from fire arms advertising. Its not some deeply held American ideal from the Founding Fathers, or a practical response to a real situation. Its starts with Colt advertising in the 19th century. And its become the most embedded idea in the firearms issue because its very good for making people money, even as it prompts Americans to kill each other and themselves.