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Trump’s Long Game on Gun Control and the NRA

On Wednesday, the President held another live-televised discussion with members of Congress on the topic of gun control in the wake of the Parkland school shooting on February 14th. The President has taken several positions on guns over the past two weeks, some leaning to the left, and some leaning to the right. This meeting, however, seems different in that Democrats are feeling emboldened by the President’s comments and apparent expressed support for some of their strongest gun control demands.

The New York Times said the President “stunned” the room with support for some gun control measures:

President Trump stunned Republicans on live television Wednesday by embracing gun control and urging a group of lawmakers at the White House to resurrect gun safety legislation that has been opposed for years by the powerful National Rifle Association and the vast majority of his party.

In a remarkable meeting, the president veered wildly from the N.R.A. playbook in front of giddy Democrats and stone-faced Republicans. He called for comprehensive gun control legislation that would expand background checks to weapons purchased at gun shows and on the internet, keep guns from mentally ill people, secure schools and restrict gun sales for some young adults. He even suggested a conversation on an assault weapons ban.

At one point, Mr. Trump suggested that law enforcement authorities should have the power to seize guns from mentally ill people or others who could present a danger without first going to court. “I like taking the guns early,” he said, adding, “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

The declarations prompted a frantic series of calls from N.R.A. lobbyists to their allies on Capitol Hill and a statement from the group calling the ideas that Mr. Trump expressed “bad policy.” Republican lawmakers suggested to reporters that they remained opposed to gun control measures.

“We’re not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them,” Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, said in a statement.

Democrats, too, said they were skeptical that Mr. Trump would follow through.

Some Republicans were calling it a train-wreck as the President attacked the NRA and seemed to side with Democrats. Watching Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s giddy face was enough to produce a rebuke from the NRA via spokesperson Dana Loesch:

“One of the things that NRA leadership stressed to the president on Sunday is that due process must be respected,” Loesch said. “Harden schools, respect kids. Due process must be respected.”

Earlier in the segment, Loesch weighed in with her overall take on Wednesday’s bipartisan meeting. And the NRA spokesperson expressed little optimism.

“I love the fascinating discussion, but at the same time it doesn’t make for great policy for keeping our kids safe,’ she said. “Look, there’s a way that you can respect and protect due process, and protect the rights of millions of Americans, while also hardening our schools and keeping kids safe.”

So, what to make of all this? The President knows he needs gun-owners and the backing of the NRA as part of his base in 2018 and 2020. He can’t stray too far from orthodoxy, and he continues to heap praise on the organization. In fact, clearly the President realized he talked himself into a corner on Wednesday and tried to walk things back:

In some ways, having an open discussion on this topic is more than we’ve gotten from any president in the past 10-15 years. Republicans oppose gun control, Democrats support it. End of discussion and nothing really changes even on topics of agreement like correcting issues with mental health information reaching the background check system. Even after the Las Vegas massacre where some 50 people lost their lives, the topic of banning “bump stocks” gained initial steam, then nothing happened. Why is this time different? Maybe the students themselves popping up all over cable news has prompted the President to take back the limelight with these live-televised discussions from the White House.

In the end, I’m still not convinced that we’re going to see any legislation out of this. House Republicans are demanding some action on National Concealed Carry Reciprocity in order to take up any new gun control legislation, but that demand is going nowhere in the Senate. The President is playing the long game toward the 2018 midterms by appearing to be the one in the room willing to compromise on some things in the name of “school safety.” In other words, he wants to “fix” the problem, but these dastardly Republicans and Democrats keep fighting among themselves. In some respects, that’s all true, because Trump would rather have a win and he’d probably sign-off on something that was not supported fully by the NRA if it meant he could take a victory lap on “doing something” about school shootings.

Right now both sides are still entrenched in partisan corners, but at least there is some discussion happening and a debate being carried out on live television so we can see where everyone stands.

Nate Ashworth :Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

View Comments (3)

  • I have several thoughts on this:

    1) This could be a "Nixon goes to China" event. That is, Obama would have been assassinated if he had tried for gun control. But Trump has pandered so much to the NRA that he may have enough political capital to stand his ground.

    2) But you're probably right. Congress is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NRA. The fact that the House is still pushing guns among people who have voted against them--at this point in history--tells that story. And shows that Congress will not listen to the public.

    3) However, Trump has shaken up the world. He has pushed the country hard right, but since he has no respect for traditional limits, that feeling is catching on among others. Look at the women's rights movement. It had no power to toss out male leaders until Trump showed that rules don't matter.

    4) This is the first time public interest has not petered out on this issue within a few days of a shooting.

    5) Corporations seem to be listening to the overwhelming public demand for some kind of action. Sometimes the market works.

    6) Slide Fire, manufacturer of bump stocks should be fined out of business, like any other company that purposely creates an illegal lethal product.

    That ought to get a response. . .

  • I'm unhappy with our president & his latest moves. Guns don't kill people; but, bad people do! Deal with the bad people! All his talk about Conceal Carry & how he supported it...now he does not. Tie Conceal Carry to a bill with some modest changes in gun law & PASS IT!

  • Slide Fire is only one of the several devices on the market that can make a semi-automatic weapon perform as if it were fully-automatic. AutoGlove USA, manufactured out of McLean, Virginia is the latest devise to enter the market and bills itself as a mechanism that allows for “full-auto fire without ATF approval, tax stamp or firearm modifications.” Powered by a battery pack that can be attached to a user’s arm or body.

    Congressional members of both parties are weak on gun control and should be held responsible for the many mass shootings the US has experienced recently. The good news is that a long list of corporate businesses have resigned from the NRA and will no longer be sponsors. This list is long and includes Walmart, LL Bean, REI, Wyndham Hotels, United & Delta Airlines, Allied & North American Van Lines, Enterprise Holdings, just to name a few.