With this president, no policy position is sacred. But if Donald Trump decided to support gun-control laws after Las Vegas, it would be truly surprising.
That’s because Trump was one of the most vociferous pro-gun presidential candidates that gun-rights proponents can remember.
Even though Trump the Businessman supported an assault weapons ban, Trump the Politician has been unabashedly pro-gun. He repeatedly promised the Second Amendment is “very very safe” with him.
He once said at a campaign rally that maybe “Second Amendment people” can do something about Hillary Clinton. After the June 2016 Orlando shooting, he indicated he was taking his gun policy cues on how to react from the NRA.
“I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2016”
The National Rifle Association spent some $50 million in the presidential election, for him and against Clinton. One of the first bills he signed into law was an obscure one that made it easier for people the government deems mentally incapable of managing their affairs to get guns. A couple months later, he became the first president since Ronald Reagan to speak at the NRA’s annual conference.
“You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” he said.
Trump seems to believe what the NRA and conservative pundits assume: The NRA’s support helped him win the election. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates the NRA spent more than $30 million attacking Clinton and other Democratic candidates in the presidential election.
Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, points out the group ran an expensive October ad of a woman who says her pistol saved her life from an attacker. The ad started running the same week the devastating Access Hollywood tape broke all the way through the World Series at the end of the month. The NRA was one of the first major interest groups to endorse him and one of the few groups to stand by him.
“The NRA did just about everything right,” Barnes wrote.
Policy consistency is not Trump’s strong suit. Nor, necessarily, is loyalty. (See all his top aides who have lost their jobs so far.)
But Trump is consistent on one thing: hugging his base. On guns, he hugged his base hard. And he has yet to let go.
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” he once said during the campaign, in a reference to his loyal base. “It’s like incredible.”
Trump certainly has the ability to buck his own party. Last month, he struck a “deal” to protect “dreamers” from deportation with “Chuck and Nancy,” as he likes to call the Democratic congressional leaders – Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Calif.
But I put “deal” in quotes because so far, there is no tangible legislation to protect dreamers.
And while some Republicans in Congress are amenable to immigration reform, very few want to cross the line to support gun control bills. The polling just isn’t there.
That helps explain why Congress is moving to loosen, not tighten, gun laws. A bill that would make it easier to buy silencers to muffle the sound of guns firing is moving through the House. Another piece of legislation on the gun-control lobby’s wish list is a bill to require states to acknowledge another state’s conceal-carry permit, effectively making the entire United States on par with some states’ loosest gun laws.
Those gun-rights bills have been stalled by mass shootings, not any political force. The silencer legislation was scheduled for a hearing the summer day a gunman fired on Republican members of Congress and lobbyists at an Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field. It eventually got its hearing and made it out of committee, and the Post’s Mike DeBonis now reports it’s been put on hold in the wake of Las Vegas.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to make a connection between Chicago’s gang violence and the city’s gun-control laws, an indication of where the president might lean after Las Vegas.
When asked about all this by reporters Tuesday morning, Trump was noncommittal: “We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by,” he said.
If he’s talking about anything other than support for gun rights, it would be a remarkable about-face, even for him.
Amber Phillips is a columnist for the Washington Post.
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