Friday, August 09, 2019


When Donald Trump thinks about guns, he sometimes summons up a vestigial, pre-Fox version of himself. That earlier Trump was just as much of a jerk and a thug as the present-day version, but on guns, he wasn't a right-wing absolutist. In a 2000 book, he said he supported the ban on assault weapons, which had not yet expired.

You have to remember that in the New York of his younger days, you could be an obnoxious right-wing chest-thumper and still support gun control. As mayor in the 1990s, Trump's pal Rudy Giuliani was a fervent advocate of gun control, saying at one point, "It should be as difficult to get a gun in Florida as it is in New York City." Giuliani favored gun control even as his appointees oversaw a police department that acted as an occupying force in non-white neighborhoods -- stop-and-frisk, in fact, was regarded as a key element of a gun-control strategy. I think a part of Trump still believes that you can be a right-wing strongman without being a pro-gun absolutist.

But if we get to September -- which is the next time Congress will be in session -- and the conversation hasn't moved on from the El Paso and Dayton shootings, I think the gun lobby and Fox News will redouble their efforts to persuade the president that support for universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, and possibly even a national red-flag law will alienate his base. Right now, Trump is talking about seriously considering these measures. He's had several conversations with Wayne LaPierre of the NRA, who's trying to talk him out of supporting a background-check bill, but the pressure campaign has been low-key -- nothing like LaPierre's rabid speech after the Sandy Hook massacre, which, horrible as it was, turned out to be extremely effective in rallying anti-gun-control forces, particularly in Congress. (Pro-gunners are still using LaPierre's "good guy with a gun" line from that speech.) I assume the NRA is keeping its powder dry -- but if there's legislative momentum in September, then we'll see an all-out assault, directly from the NRA and also from the right-wing media.

And if Trump somehow resists this pressure, I don't buy the notion that his support for gun control legislation will encourage Republicans in Congress to support it:
Should Mr. Trump throw his weight behind a background check bill — or even an executive order, which would surely face legal challenges — it would immediately change the gun control calculus for skittish Republicans, giving at least some cover to support the concept.
Nahhh. The base loves Trump, but the gun ultras will make a massive amount of noise if a background check bill seems to have a serious chance of passing and gaining Trump's signature. The same may be true of a national red-flag bill. (An assault weapons ban is out of the question for all Republicans.) The base will say, "I love Trump, but he's wrong about this." MAGA tribal solidarity means inducing liberal tears. Backing gun control does the opposite. So there'll definitely be at least 41 votes to block such legislation in the Senate.

Politico thinks Trump "has an opening to boost his standing in the suburbs heading into 2020." That's what the media wants Trump to want. It's not what he wants.

I predict that nothing will happen on guns in the fall. America won't be thinking about El Paso and Dayton then. There seem to be no victim-activists who can keep the story alive, the way the Parkland kids did. And if the loss of momentum doesn't kill the chances of reform, Trump's desire to please his base will. And if not that, congressional Republicans' desire to please the base will.

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