A week and a half after the school shooting in Florida, the partisan media narrative about it was falling apart. So naturally, President Trump held a televised summit with lawmakers in which grabbed ahold of the media’s narrative and brought it back to life.
Let’s start with the reality. School shootings are not increasing and have actually gone down over the past 20 years.
They are extremely rare events, and hardly any of them involve a rifle like the AR-15. As one researcher concluded, “There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” and “while certain policies may help decrease gun violence in general, it’s unlikely that any of them will prevent mass school shootings.” That doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything to improve school security, but it means that attempting to turn every school into an inverted prison on permanent lockdown—or seeking to criminalize and disarm a wide swath of the public—is a hysterical overreaction.
But hysterical overreaction is exactly what the media has been serving up, and in his televised meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, Trump endorsed it all.
This appeals irresistibly to his favorite form of self-flattery: the conceit that he is a uniquely decisive leader who will easily solve problems that have eluded all the pathetic losers who came before him. That was the main theme of the meeting, repeated by Trump again and again.
On the issue of “universal background checks”—a plan to reduce the number of gun sellers by imposing more onerous but not necessarily more effective background checks—Trump said: “You have a different president now. You went through a lot of presidents and didn’t get it done. You have a different president…. I think it’s time that a president stepped up. I’m talking Democrat and Republican presidents, they’ve not stepped up.”
While Senator Chris Murphy railed against “our unbelievably loose gun laws,” Trump said: “What surprises me more than anything else is that nothing has been done for all these years. Because I really see a lot of common ground. Democrat, Republican. I’m so surprised. I’m sitting here and I’m saying, there’s a lot of commonality here…. I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened for the last 20 years, nothing has happened. So we’re going to get it done.”
On giving the police more power to take away people’s guns, he insisted: “We have to do something very decisive. Number one, take the guns away immediately from people that you can adjudge is mentally ill…. I think they should have taken them anyway, whether they had the right or not.” When Vice-President Mike Pence chimed in to emphasize the need to “allow due process so no one’s rights are trampled,” Trump shot back: “take the guns first, go through due process second.” It’s interesting how Trump aims at the Second Amendment and hits the Fifth—and how Democrats applaud him for it.
Trump also touted his use of executive orders to ban bump stocks, a bill Congress couldn’t pass because Democrats tried to turn it into a semi-automatic rifle ban. Using executive orders in place of actual legislation is a bit of authoritarianism Trump borrowed from President Obama. Plus, he demanded that something be done against violence in movies and video games.
This shows the flimsiness of the left’s pretense at “Resistance.” All Trump needs to do is embrace gun control, and suddenly it’s just fine that he’s against due process and free speech and likes to rule by executive fiat. Authoritarianism is OK as long as it’s the right kind of authoritarianism.
Democrats were giddy—see Dianne Feinstein’s reaction—because they think this is Trump’s Nixon-to-China moment. Representative Brian Mast, a Republican who flipped sides to support a semi-auto ban, made the pitch.
You can lead on this in a way that nobody else can because for all those Americans out there that the Second Amendment is so critically important to them, they believe you, that you’re not going to go into their home and take their firearms. You have a credibility that nobody else can bring to this. That’s why you can lead.
But why would Trump have any credibility on this issue? Nixon could go to China, as the old Vulcan proverb has it, because he had a long, well-established track record as an enemy of Communism. But Trump had always been pro-gun-control right up until he ran for the Republican nomination. The National Rifle Association gave him an early endorsement anyway, and now they’re getting what they deserve.
The worst sign is that Trump started by talking up how much he likes them, which is the usual preface to a knife in the back. “I’m a fan of the NRA. No bigger fan. I’m a big fan of the NRA. These are great people. Great patriots. They love our country, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.” That was the build-up to Trump proposing a higher age limit for buying semi-automatic rifles. He also chastised Republicans for being too cowardly to go along with him: “Do you know why? You’re afraid of the NRA.” But not Trump.
I tell you what. The reason I had lunch with the NRA on Sunday—I called them and said you have to come over. Fellows, we’ve got to do something. They do have great points, I agree with that. They have great power over you people. They have less power over me…. But I tell you, they are well meaning. I said to them very nicely, fellows, we’ve got to do something…. Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified.
You see, because the NRA is such a great friend of Donald Trump, they can be counted on to let him walk all over them. That’s just what friends do.
If you think what happened in Wednesday’s meeting was a fluke or a misstatement, President Trump hit a lot of the same themes in a meeting with state-level officials the previous week. Maybe Ben Domenech is right and it was all just posturing for television and that won’t result is actual legislation. “Trump cannot afford to cross the NRA, but he can talk about doing it, strut and brag in his way. And with a media that confuses politics with optics, he can get away with it.” Certainly, Trump made an effort to walk it all back the next evening—when the cameras weren’t running.
But the case for Trump was never that we could rely on him completely when it comes to policy details. The supposed selling point for Trump was that he would fight the left-leaning media and demolish its narratives. Instead, what he did Wednesday was to confirm all the essential parts of their narrative: that school shootings are an unprecedented crisis that requires extraordinary action, that the only way to end that crisis is to give up some of our rights and give more power to the government, and that Republicans who hesitate are cowards who don’t have the guts to stand up to the NRA.
That alone is a huge betrayal of Trump’s supporters. But, hey, what did you expect? You knew damn well he was a snake before you let him in.