Trump: I'm ordering Jeff Sessions to ban bump stocks

An easy call for a president who’s under heavy pressure to act after the Parkland massacre, and who reportedly told aides “we have to do something.” The tricky part is “doing something” that wouldn’t involve any votes in Congress, as Republicans don’t want to get on the wrong side of gun-rights fans in a midterm year. If something’s to be done, the populist-in-chief will need to take the lead. Grassroots righties might hiss if Ryan or McConnell get out in front on this idea but they won’t if Trump does.

Or is that unfair? Remember the polling on bump stocks after the Vegas horror? This actually isn’t a red line for right-wingers on guns. It stands to reason that if you’re comfortable with banning automatic weapons, you should be comfortable with banning an accessory that enables a semiautomatic to fire at near-automatic rates.

In the national survey, which was conducted online and has a 2-point margin of error, voters showed broad support (79 percent) for banning bump stocks, including 75 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of respondents from gun-owning households.

That data came from Morning Consult in October, before Sutherland Springs and before Parkland. What would it look like now? And note, bump stocks weren’t the only measure Republicans were okay with:

Of the 18 questions asked, the *only* one in which at least a plurality of Republicans *didn’t* support the regulation mentioned was the one about demonstrating a need for a gun before you can buy one. Universal background checks: 87 percent of GOPers at least “somewhat” support the idea. Barring people on the no-fly list, which is based on arbitrary federal determinations, from buying weapons? 83 percent Republican support. Assault-weapon ban? 65 percent. High-capacity magazines? 64 percent. Three-day waiting period? 72 percent. Majorities of Republicans also supporting limiting gun purchases to one per month (59 percent) and limiting the amount of ammo you can buy in a given time period (57 percent).

Republican voters are broadly pro-gun but it’s only a segment of the base that ardently opposes most new regulations. As for the particular case of bump stocks, Republicans in Congress are doubly protected from any potential backlash among the grassroots right. Not only is Trump handling this via executive action, he already has cover from the NRA:

In Las Vegas, reports indicate that certain devices were used to modify the firearms involved. Despite the fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two occasions, the National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law. The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.

All of which is to say, what makes this announcement “newsy” isn’t that it’s controversial on the merits, even among righties. It’s newsy because defending gun rights has become a part of Washington GOP orthodoxy, whatever the polling might say. (See also, er, fiscal conservatism.) If you were told in 2016 that this year would bring a Republican president and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, you wouldn’t take “new gun-control regulation” in the pool of things likely to be enacted. But after three horrendous shootings in six months, this is what the politics of the situation are. Trump’s making a prudent move, just maybe not a constitutional one.

Also, he doesn’t expect Democrats to declare victory after today’s news, right? Bump stocks weren’t even used in the Parkland shooter’s rampage, and banning them does little for the left politically. They want Ryan and McConnell to have to take some tough votes, beginning at a minimum with universal background checks, which have almost unanimous public support. And while gun-rights supporters might tolerate sacrificing bump stocks, they’re going to get fidgety if Trump starts chatting with Schumer and Pelosi about any other concessions. Second Amendment enthusiasts believe, with plenty of good reason, that the left’s ultimate goal is a ban on all semiautomatic weapons (if not a ban on all weapons, period) and that well-intended new laws inevitably create opportunities for further regulation. If you ban “assault weapons,” why wouldn’t you ban all semiautomatic rifles? If you ban all semiautomatic rifles, why wouldn’t you ban semiautomatic pistols? If you ban semiautomatic pistols, why wouldn’t you ban pistols? A lethal weapon is a lethal weapon. There’ll always be another mass shooting and therefore a reason to pass new restrictions. How far is POTUS prepared to go here? Especially with his closest confidants warning him not to go wobbly.