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March 1, 2018

Trump Shoots From the Hip on Gun Policy

The president held a televised meeting with lawmakers to discuss gun measures. It didn’t go well.

President Donald Trump held a televised meeting with lawmakers Wednesday to discuss gun measures. Don’t panic, but there’s plenty to criticize, so we’ll quote him and then get to that criticism.

The statement Trump made that’s rightly getting the most attention is this: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”

It was a retort to Vice President Mike Pence, who addressed the concept of gun violence restraining orders, which provide an avenue for law enforcement to take away guns from potentially violent individuals after proper court proceedings. “Allow due process, so that no one’s rights are trampled,” Pence said. Trump interrupted by seeming to chuck the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, too. “Or, Mike, take the firearms first and then go to court,” he said. “Because a lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures. I like taking the guns early, like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida. … To go to court would have taken a long time.”

Trump wasn’t done. “It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everybody could support as opposed to, you know, 15 bills,” he said. What did he mean? He was referring to previously defeated background check measures and mental health provisions, for starters. But he even encouraged Sen. Dianne Feinstein to throw in her ban on semi-automatic rifles: “Dianne, if you could add what you have also — and I think you can — into the bill…” She was utterly giddy at the prospect.

Evidently, however, that “so beautiful … one bill” has its limits. Trump rejected Rep. Steve Scalise’s proposal to include national concealed carry reciprocity (which the House has already passed) in the bill, saying, “If you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed. We want to get something done.”

“What surprises me more than anything else is that nothing’s been done for all of these years,” Trump marveled. “Because I really see a lot of common ground. … It’s time that a president stepped up.”

Trump still wasn’t done. His next target was the NRA. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who sponsored some of the aforementioned background check legislation, did not include a provision raising the age for rifle buyers, which the NRA opposes. Trump told him, “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA.” Trump continued, “They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. … Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified.”

Whew — that was quite a barrage of rhetoric that should upset even the most ardent Trumpist. So, a few observations.

Regarding Trump’s dismissal of due process, Reason’s Nick Gillespie notes, “This comes from a president who only a few weeks ago wondered aloud on Twitter, ‘Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?’” That was when White House aide Rob Porter was under fire for domestic abuse. So there’s that.

Now? Due process is subject to his visceral and emotional response to a truly horrific school attack. Anybody who feels anything wants to prevent any such attack from ever happening again. Trump, with his ill-considered musings, wanted to show he cares that a guy who was known by law enforcement to be a threat was still able to obtain firearms and attack a school.

That said, even if we’re to take Trump “seriously but not literally,” and even if he merely expressed an idea poorly, authoritarian pronouncements are inexcusable.

The same goes for his nonsense about the NRA. Trump was elected in part with some heavy lifting by the NRA, but he rejects being seen as anyone’s tool. That he threw his fellow Republicans under the bus for standing for their own Second Amendment beliefs, however, is petty and pathetic.

As for the “get something done” line, Trump is a big-picture guy, and he’s looking at the November election thinking that it will be bad if Republicans once again “do nothing” on guns. He wants a deal, and the details matter less than the perception of a political “victory” for him.

For some parting thoughts, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said in a statement: “Strong leaders don’t automatically agree with the last thing that was said to them. We have the Second Amendment and due process of law for a reason. We’re not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the President talked to today doesn’t like them.”

David Thornton writes, “It would be an unhappy irony for gun owners if Donald Trump, endorsed by the NRA even though he was a former Democrat who had supported gun control in the past, became the Republican president who overcame the gun lobby to enact the first significant gun control legislation since the 1990s. Stranger things have happened.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) referred to Trump’s reality TV background when he said of the meeting, “I thought it was fascinating television.”

“Many ideas, some good & some not so good, emerged from our bipartisan meeting on school safety yesterday at the White House,” Trump tweeted this morning. “Background Checks a big part of conversation. Gun free zones are proven targets of killers. After many years, a Bill should emerge. Respect 2nd Amendment!” Let’s hope he listens to his own advice.

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